Memorial Day is more than just another holiday or an extra day off from school. It is a day for Americans to pay homage to servicemen and women because of their noble sacrifices that allow us to live with the freedoms we possess. We also honor and express gratitude to the veterans who served alongside them. Every year, many Americans pay their respects by visiting cemeteries or memorials, hosting family gatherings, and partaking in parades.
In Response to the Civil War
After the unprecedented carnage of some 620,000 soldiers during the Civil War, Decoration Day was born. The mass loss of life significantly impacted several communities, resulting in many spontaneous tributes of fallen soldiers. As a result, the American government established our first national cemeteries.
During the late 1860s, Americans throughout the nation decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and offered their prayers.
- 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, visited the graves from the Battle of Gettysburg.
- 1865, a group of women visited a cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to decorate the soldiers’ graves.
- 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, visited the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
- 1866, 219 Civil War veterans marched through Carbondale, Illinois, in memory of their fallen comrades to Woodlawn Cemetery.
- May 5, 1866, Waterloo, New York, received congressional recognition as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day” for their annual community service.
The Father of Memorial Day
Major General John A. Logan, a commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, issued General Order No. 11 in the hope that his country can heal and find solace. May 30,1868, was reserved to strew “with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves” of those who fell in the war. The order conveyed optimism that the ceremony would continue “from year to year…to honor the memory of…departed comrades.”
In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which transferred Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day Customs
As stated in General Order No. 11, “no form of ceremony is prescribed.” However, customs and symbols were later associated with the holiday over the years. The most notable is the American flag flying at half-mast as a means of national remembrance for periods of mourning.
In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, requesting Americans a minute of silence at 3 p.m. A voluntary and informal act meant to promote unity among the nation’s people.
5 Films that Capture the Sentiment of Memorial Day
Filmmakers and entertainers have tugged at our heartstrings for decades with movies showcasing the grueling acts of war. Enjoy a list of films that capture the sentiment of Memorial Day that can be enjoyed during quarantine.
- Flags of Our Fathers – 2006 American war film based on the 2000 book of the same name. Presents the American viewpoint of the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
- The Longest Day – 1962 American epic war film based on the 1959 book of the same name. Presents the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944 in a docudrama style.
- Lincoln – 2012 American biographical historical drama film loosely based on 2005 biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Presenting the last four months of Lincoln’s life, the film focuses on his efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
- Glory – 1989 American historical war drama film based on the Union Army’s first African-American regiment in the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
- Little Women – 2019 American coming-of-age period drama film based on the 1868 novel of the same name chronicling the lives of the four March sisters living through the Civil War.