Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and while it will be the unofficial beginning of summer – marked with barbecues and special sales events, it is most importantly about honoring our American heroes who have died in our wars while serving our country.
Memorial Day was originally recognized as Decoration Day, to remember those who had fallen fighting the Civil War and to decorate their graves. Via the Memorial Day website:
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th 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,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).
It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). This helped ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19th in Texas; April 26th in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10th in South Carolina; and June 3rd (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
In the year 2000, then President Bill Clinton issued a directive that a National Moment of Remembrance be observed at 3:00 pm on each Memorial Day (excerpt below):
In this time of unprecedented success and prosperity throughout our land, I ask that all Americans come together to recognize how fortunate we are to live in freedom and to observe a universal “National Moment of Remembrance” on each Memorial Day. This memorial observance represents a simple and unifying way to commemorate our history and honor the struggle to protect our freedoms.
Accordingly, I hereby direct all executive departments and agencies, in consultation with the White House Program for the National Moment of Remembrance (Program), to promote a “National Moment of Remembrance” to occur at 3 p.m. (local time) on each Memorial Day.
Americans are encouraged to pause their activities for one minute at that time to reflect on the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf by the brave men and women of our military. Suggestions from the Memorial Day website for this include a moment of silence or listening to “Taps”.
I also respectfully suggest that prayer is also appropriate for this observance.
Here is a Memorial Day prayer recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here are two thoughtful prayers from the Archdiocese of Detroit:
Memorial Day Prayer
Heavenly Father, Today we remember and pay tribute to the men and women of the Armed Services who have died in the defense of our nation; from the days of the Revolution to these days in Iraq and Afghanistan. They paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we hold so dear.
In the words of Sacred Scripture we hear, “There is no greater love then this, than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” It is only by your grace and the love they have for you and this nation that gave them the strength to lay down their lives.
We beseech you O Lord, to receive these servants of peace into your loving embrace and grant them the eternal peace that surpasses all understanding.
We also remember the family members of these great heroes. They too suffer a great and painful sacrifice. Bestow upon them the blessings of your consolation and peace. May you ease their sadness as they continue on the road to serenity and hope.
To you we offer this prayer knowing you fulfill the heart’s desire of those who seek you with noble intentions. May our prayer for true and lasting peace be answered in accordance to your will and for the good of your sons and daughters. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Peace. Amen
On this Memorial Day, we pray for those who courageously laid down
their lives for the cause of freedom. May the example of their sacrifice
inspire in us the selfless love of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bless the families of our fallen troops, and fill their homes and their
lives with your strength and peace.
In union with people of goodwill of every nation, embolden us to
answer the call to work for peace and justice, and thus, seek an end
to violence and conflict around the globe.
We pray through Christ our Lord.
MJ Stevenson, AKA Zilla, is best known on the web as Zilla at MareZilla.com. She lives in a woodland shack near a creek, in one of those rural parts of New York State that nobody knows or cares about, with her family and a large pack of guardian companion animals.