Memorial Day 2020
As Memorial Day approaches, many Missourians are wondering how to balance the traditional start of summer with social distancing guidelines. This year will not see the typical parades and cookouts that usually mark the day; however, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn something about how this holiday came to be part of America’s calendar.
How did Memorial Day start?
After the American Civil War ended in 1865, many communities began coming together to commemorate the lives of the soldiers who fell during the conflict. Known early on as Decoration Day, the festivities centered around garlanding graves with flowers and holding parades. The first documented community-wide celebration was held in 1866 in Waterloo, New York, although there is evidence that a Decoration Day parade was organized by freed slaves and missionaries on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Over time, Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, the holiday evolved to remember all members of the American military who died in service to our country.
How did Memorial Day come to be celebrated on the last Monday of May?
In the beginning, Memorial Day was observed May 30 of each year. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. This act also set Labor Day as the first Monday in September, Columbus Day as the second Monday in October, and Washington’s Birthday as the third Monday in February.
How is Memorial Day different from Veterans Day?
Both are national holidays with ties to military service. Veterans Day, celebrated Nov. 11 of each year, is specifically to honor all those who have served in the military. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May each year to honor those who died while in military service.
Why do people wear red poppies on Memorial Day?
During World War I, after the Battle of Ypres, a soldier named John McRae noticed that red poppies were blooming across the disturbed fields and wrote the poem In Flanders Fields. In America, Moina Michael read the poem in a magazine and vowed to always wear a red poppy to honor those who died in the war, while at the same time a French woman by the name of Anna Guerin spread the idea in Europe.
Eventually, the idea was championed by the National American Legion and soon, artificial red poppies were sold to raise money to benefit veterans and their families. Today, the poppies are assembled by disabled veterans and sold on Memorial Day to raise money to support veteran’s welfare programs.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.