On May 29, the United States will observe Memorial Day, which is a day set aside to remember the men and women who have died while serving in the US military. This observance began shortly after the civil war but was not made an official federal holiday until 1971. Originally known as Decoration Day, it is often celebrated with parades and services. Families also barbecue and gather, since it unofficially marks the beginning of summer.
The Origin of Decoration Day
Even before the Civil War ended, women’s groups across much of the South were gathering informally to decorate the graves of Confederate dead. In April 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia, resolved to commemorate the fallen once a year—a decision that seems to have influenced John Logan to follow suit. However, southern commemorations were rarely held on one standard day, with observations differing by state and spread out across much of the spring and early summer.
The Civil War killed more Americans than any other war in US history. When the war ended in 1865, the great number of dead soldiers required the establishment of national cemeteries. Within a matter of years, the survivors were visiting these sites for springtime remembrances, where they left flowers and recited prayers. One of these commemorations was organized in Charleston, South Carolina, by a group of formerly enslaved people immediately after the confederacy’s surrender. Despite this, according to the federal government, the birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York, where a large, annual community-wide event began May 5, 1866. The town closed businesses and gathered to place flowers and flags on the graves of fallen servicemen.
Shortly thereafter, on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, the leader of an organization of Civil War Veterans, began a campaign to declare May 30 a national day of remembrance. 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 Civil War soldiers buried there.
Within 22 years, every northern state had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states continued to mark their own observances until after World War 1.
The Holiday Evolves
Originally, the holiday only honored those killed in the Civil War. But after the United States became involved in other grave conflicts, the holiday evolved to honor the nation’s military personnel who died in all wars.
For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
The move has not been without controversy, though. Veterans groups, concerned that more Americans associate the holiday with first long weekend of the summer and not its intended purpose to honor the nation’s war dead, continue to lobby for a return to the May 30 observances. For more than 20 years, their cause was championed by Hawaiian Senator—and decorated World War II veteran—Daniel Inouye, who until his 2012 death reintroduced legislation in support of the change at the start of every Congressional term.
Memorial Day Traditions
Many towns and cities across the US celebrate Memorial Day with parades that feature veteran’s organizations and military personnel. Many people wear red poppies as a symbol of remembrance for those who fell in foreign wars, a tradition inspired by a poem from World War I called “In Flanders Fields.” There are also parties and barbecues to mark the unofficial start of the summer season. While there are sometimes fireworks displays, this is usually considered inappropriate because it may trigger PTSD.
—with information from History.com
Parades and Ceremonies
Manhasset American Legion Memorial Day Parade
May 29. 10 a.m.
Plandome Road from Plandome Court to Memorial Place
The American Legion will place a wreath at the Gold Star Monument on Plandome Road.
concludes at Mary Jane Davies Green for Memorial Service
United Veterans Organization (UVO) Memorial Day Ceremony
May 28, 10 a.m.
Ceremony will also unveil the new Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial and Statue.
Eisenhower Park, Veterans Memorial Plaza
Mineola Fire Department Memorial Day Parade
May 29, 11:00 a.m.
Annual parade followed by a ceremony
at Mineola Memorial Park
Starts at the corner of Union Street and Westbury Avenue
West on Westbury Avenue to Roslyn Road
North on Roslyn Road to Jericho Turnpike
West on Jericho Turnpike to Marcellus Road
South on Marcellus Road to
The Carle Place American Legion Parade
May 29, 10:00 a.m.
At the corner of Jamaica Blvd. and Westbury Ave.
East on Westbury Ave. to Carle Road and Westbury Ave.
Carle Place Veterans Memorial Park Memorial Service at approximately 10:30am.
New Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce Parade
9:30 Assembly at Southbound lane of Hillside Blvd and Jericho Tpke
10:00 Parade Starts
10:30 Wreath Laying Ceremony at front lawn of NHP Village Hall
11:00 Memorial Day Ceremony
Memorial Park Garden City Parade
May 29, 10:00 a.m.
Address: Monuments at the Gazebo
by the Library
Village of East Williston Memorial Day Ceremony
May 29, 12:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m.
On the Village Green