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Choiceortunity #54

May 13, 2010

This week’s Choiceortunity: Memorial Day

So I know (kinda sorta) why and how we celebrate Memorial Day each May; but there is a lot I don’t know.  Memorial Day is just 19 short days away; can you believe May is half over with?  We honor veterans who died during their service to our country each May and it is recognized as a national holiday.  I’ve been doing a little research into Memorial Day and how it came about.  It is very interesting.  Instead of boring you with a long “essay”, I’ll just point out some highlights.

  • Memorial Day is always celebrated on the last Monday of the month.
  • Memorial Day use to be held on May 30th but was changed to the last Monday in order to create a three day weekend; there has been legislation trying to get back to recognizing it on the 30th.
  • It was formerly known as Decoration Day and it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military.
  • This day was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War and was expanded after WWII.

Ok, I lied about the essay part, but this really is interesting stuff.

History, Version ONE: following the end of the Civil War many communities set a day to mark the end of the war and to honor those who had died. According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first Memorial Day was observed by former slaves at the Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park) in Charleston, South Carolina. The race course had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp in 1865 as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, former slaves exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard. The work was completed in only ten days. On May 1, 1865, the Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly Black residents, including 2800 children, processed to the location for a celebration which included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the first Decoration Day.

History, Version TWO: Memorial Day originated in 1868, when Union General John A. Logan designated a day in which the graves of Civil War soldiers would be decorated.

History, Version THREE: Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

History, Version INFINITY: Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, GA, claim the title, as well as Richmond, VA. The village of Boalsburg, PA, claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, IL, cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

OK it is quite clear that the origins of Memorial Day are quite foggy, but we can say for sure that it evolved out of the end of the Civil War.

What’s up with the poppies?

We’ve all experienced Veterans raising money by selling paper poppies outside of the grocery store or church.  I always just thought it was a “thank you for your donation” but it turns out there is a history behind the poppy.  In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on December 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”  So as this year’s Memorial Day approaches I challenge you to remember the roots of its existence and the reasoning behind its significance.  Many men and women have fought for this country and given their lives for our freedoms.  Many men and women are fighting for our country right now.  We will all enjoy a “day off” for Memorial Day (except for homework) and that is cool; my choiceortunity challenge to you this week is to share what you know about Memorial Day with others and to take a moment of silence at 3pm on May 31st to recognize all of those who have given their lives for America.

To all the Veterans, Active Duty Personnel and Military Families that are part of the Herzing University family, we thank you for your service to our country.

If you want to do a little “digging” of your own, here are my sources of information.

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