How did Memorial Day come to be? In the United States, the last Monday of May is marked by the Memorial Day Holiday. For many people, it is the forerunner of summer. Families plan their vacations and breaks in the daily routine with trips to the National Parks, theme parks, beaches, and domestic and foreign cities, and take on every type of destination and activity imaginable. It is also a time when people spend time shopping for the summer and plan BBQ parties. But why do we have a Memorial Day Holiday in the first place?
How Memorial Day Began
On May 30, 1868, 150 years ago, Americans first widely observed what was then called Decoration Day and now is known as Memorial Day. General John A. Logan proclaimed that day at Arlington National Cemetery as a time to remember the sacrifices that the Civil War exacted on soldiers on both sides of the bloody conflict. In observance of the holiday, participants placed gifts, flags, and flowers on the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
Over time, after World War I, Memorial Day was extended to commemorate and honor all those who sacrificed their lives on behalf of America in the line of duty and in all of America’s wars. Later, Memorial Day became a day that included the celebration of all those who are currently serving in the US military and who are Veterans.
Memorial Day was declared a national holiday in 1971 and continues to be a day when the American people pay homage to those who have died protecting the United States, the American people, and their way of life. Many of those serving have paid the ultimate sacrifice, physically and psychologically, not to mention the sacrifices that have been imposed on their loved ones.
To date, over 1.1 million soldiers have died in wars defending the United States of America, and over 1.5 million soldiers have become disabled fighting for our country. We are forever indebted to them for their sacrifices and that of their families.
President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Memorial Day Speech
The observance of Memorial Day gained renewed significance when President Ronald Reagan delivered a moving speech at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1986. For your appreciation, his deeply profound speech is quoted here:
“Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.
“I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.
“Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid, and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.
“Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, ‘I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.’ Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, ‘Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.’ [Laughter]
“Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward—in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.
“Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on ‘Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.’ Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: ‘At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.’
“All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen—the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it—three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.
“I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.
“And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.
“That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.
“Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.”
We Stand With Our Military This Memorial Day and Thank Them
Assistance In Home Care is personally connected with the meaning of Memorial Day. Nearly every member of our staff can claim a member of the military, living and passed, within the folds of their family. The appreciation and love of our family and friends in the armed forces are sincere and heartfelt. This sentiment is expressed in the compassionate care that we respectfully provide the honorable military service personnel in our care. We owe them that and so much more.
Assistance In Home Care is also a resource and a referral source to medical healthcare providers, including those at the Veterans Affairs Hospital of Long Beach. We invite anyone who needs assistance in seeking care, whether in a medical facility or in the comfort of their own home, to contact us with their needs and questions so we can assist in providing them with the help they need to live a life of their choosing.
Thank you to the men and women in uniform who are our first line of defense in protecting the United States of America.