The history behind Memorial Day
Q. I must admit I get confused sometimes just like my Dad about when to celebrate Memorial Day. From what once was a day, Decoration Day, to now Memorial Day, Memorial Day weekend to Memorial Day week? We were talking the other night about being sure to lower the flag to half staff until noon on Monday, the 27th. My Dad insisted that was wrong and that it should be on the 30th. The more we discussed how there are celebrations all weekend and even all week, it does get confusing. He also gets upset when he looks into the paper or hears all the advertisements on TV and radio about “Memorial Day Sales” from mattresses to cars to clothes to motorcycles — how did it turn into that kind of thing? He does make sense. So maybe he is right?
A. Your Dad is a man after my own heart in that I feel Memorial Day has been commercialized beyond “too much.” I agree with him that mattress sales, etc., somewhat, or I will say actually, demean the real meaning of Memorial Day. Having said that, I think we will review a couple of things to hopefully bring back the reason why there is a Memorial Day.
First of all, it was in 1868 when it was originally called “Decoration Day” and declared to be observed on May 30th, a day to be set aside as a holiday to officially recognize and honor those who had died in the Civil War.
At that time, however, Decoration Day was not recognized by all of the states. It wasn’t until after World War I that the day changed to honoring all Americans who died in every war and the name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day.
Having the America Flag at half-staff until noon began in 1868 also as a tribute to fallen soldiers. Then in 1968, people in high enough positions decided they needed to move some of the holidays so they could enjoy three-day weekend holiday celebrations; in other words, three days in a row off work at the sacrifice of a day to totally honor our fallen soldiers.
Hence in 1968, this Uniform Holiday Act was signed, which moved four federal holidays, one of which was Memorial Day, which was moved to the last Monday in May.
This new law didn’t actually go into effect until 1971 and apparently there was a lot of confusion then — and a resurgence of confusion and questions as to why change it? Therefore, yes, as the current law states, the flag will fly half-staff until noon tomorrow, Monday, May 27, — not on Thursday, May 30, and and not on both days.
Interesting to note is this: On Sept. 20, 1975, enough pressure was placed on those “higher ups” to return Veterans Day back to its official observance date of Nov. 11. Furthermore, I found there have been bills introduced in Congress since 1999 to return Memorial Day back to its original date of May 30.
Perhaps it is time to return the main focus of Memorial Day back to the original reason and have mattress sales (and I’m not picking on mattresses) some other time for some other reason.
My final comment: In grateful appreciation to all of our fallen soldiers who so willingly and honorably gave their lives for us and our country., we remember and honor you not only on Memorial Day, but each and every day.