We all know that Memorial Day means the start of summer, barbecues with friends and family, a trip to the pool, and appreciation for those who fought for our freedoms. But, there is much more to it. Here are five facts you can share with your friends this Memorial Day.
Five Memorial Day Facts
- It started with the Civil War. Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers died. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to spontaneous commemorations. Waterloo, New York began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the “birthplace of Memorial Day.”
- It was first called Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn’t disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared “Memorial Day” the official name in 1967.
- It was James Garfield’s finest hour. On May 30, 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, Republican congressman from Ohio and future president spoke. He said, “If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of fifteen-thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung.”
- Rolling Thunder. On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2,500 motorcyclists rode into Washington, D.C. for the first Rolling Thunder. This rally drew attention to Vietnam War soldiers still missing in action or prisoners of war. A national veterans rights group, Rolling Thunder takes its name from the B-52 carpet-bombing runs during the war in Vietnam.
- Memorial Day customs. It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half-staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset. Taps, the 24-note bugle call, is played at all military funerals and memorial services. The World War I poem “In Flanders Fields,” was inspired the custom of wearing red artificial poppies. In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance. This asks Americans to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. in an act of national unity.