The Story Behind Memorial Day

It’s easy to forget the meanings behind each holiday we recognize in the United States when we’re busy celebrating, taking a day from work, or relaxing through a three-day weekend like Memorial Day. Considering the upcoming holiday Monday, May 30th, a brief explanation of its meaning can be understood through one powerful story.

Memorial Day doesn’t mark one day in history where a significant event in U.S. history occurred. Dating back to 1866 after the Civil War, Memorial Day marks a day of observance to honor and remember the veterans whom gave their lives serving in American armed forces. So, how did Memorial Day become a documented holiday?

The story not often told is that of General John Alexander Logan, the man who is largely to thank for the establishment of Memorial Day. Born in 1826, Logan joined the army at 21 years old during the Mexican-American War. After the war, he pursued a career in politics and was elected as an Illinois House Representative, and later to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1858. During his second term as a Congressman, the Civil War began. An advocate for Illinois to join the Union during the Civil War and a lead in that effort, Logan returned to military service joining the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry as a commander. During the war, he was seriously injured, and a witness to the loss of half of his men. Upon returning to Congress as a Major General, Logan founded the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organized advocacy group of veterans and a first of its time in American politics. As part of his duties in the GAR, he issued Order Number 11, establishing the first Memorial Day on May 30, 1868.

Why May 30th? The selection of May 30th is said to have been the General’s wife’s idea, as she herself was inspired by the Southern practice of decorating military graves with flags and flowers by war widows. He felt May to be a reliable month with summer beginning to stretch into the North, and flowers in full bloom across the U.S. In the Order, it read: “The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Memorial Day became a uniform public holiday beginning on January 1, 1971 after President Johnson passed Public Law 90-363 June 28, 1968 to honor Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, also recognizing Waterloo as its formal birthplace.

MFN 52 (5/22/2018)

Source: Forbes, 5/29/2017

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