Monday, May 30, 2016

Throwback Monday - Memorial Day

This is a portion of a post I wrote for Memorial Day, 2012, which I've repeated a couple of times since with some new material.  Today, I repeat it, with some editing, as this is the 150th anniversary of the holiday.

Memorial Day is the holiday where we honor our war dead.  In recent years, it has expanded to honor the missing.
Memorial Day in the United States, sadly, has also evolved into a major shopping event for many people.  It misses the element of what it originally stood for.  I must admit, I have taken advantage of those sales from time to time.

It is also thought of as the "unofficial" beginning of summer.  In my area of Binghamton, NY, the area carousels we are famous for open for the season, as do the lakes, and some other recreation areas.

But in memory of my late father, a disabled (non-combat) veteran of World War II, I will also take some time to honor his memory and those of other veterans I know.   Which leads me to a discussion of how this holiday originated here in the United States.

This holiday, in my youth, was celebrated on May 30.  Today, it is the last Monday of May, to allow many to have a three day weekend.

There are several versions of the origin of Memorial Day.  Some of the stories depend on if you were from the Federal side, or the Confederate side, of the United States Civil War (1861-1865.).  What the stories have in common is that Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, originated in a desire to honor the sacrifice of those who died in our Civil War.  The Library of Congress lists several stories.  Here are what are perhaps the two main origin stories:

Waterloo, New York, considers itself the birthplace of Memorial Day, and has a federally recognized Memorial Day museum.  According to this story, Henry Wells, a local druggist, suggested a holiday in the fall of 1865 to honor the sacrifice of Civil War dead.  The idea gained traction, and the first Memorial Day was held on May 5, 1866.

But there are other stories. One takes place in Mississippi, a state late a member of the Confederate States of America.  As that story goes, many of the wounded of the bloody battle of Shiloh (1862) were taken to Columbus, Mississippi.  Columbus ended up with its Friendship Cemetery full of Civil War dead of both sides.  Eventually, the Federal dead were relocated to other area cemeteries.

According to Columbus, the first Memorial Day was held on April 5, 1866, as the women of Columbus decorated the graves of both Federal and Confederate soldiers buried in Columbus.

Mental Floss has more interesting perspectives on Memorial Day. 

Some states of the former Confederacy also have separate holidays, called Confederate Memorial Day, or Confederate Heroes Day.

Regardless of what the "true story" of Memorial Day is, I want to leave you with two modern, local stories.  First, the story of a family of a soldier from Pennsylvania lost in the Vietnam War. 

And a story about a war that has come full circle.  My mother in law's brother fought in the Pacific theatre during World War II, and was wounded at Okinawa.  And now, years later, a chance to honor more memories.

May your Memorial Day today be a meaningful one.

If you do not live in the United States, do you have a holiday to honor war dead?


  1. My records denote it was first celebrated as Decoration Day on 30 may 1868.

  2. It seems like every holiday is an excuse for stores to have sales.

  3. Very interesting to read about the vibrant culture of your country. US never cease to fascinate me and would love to make a trip:)


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