Decoration Day was first observed on May 5, 1865 by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic. Its purpose was to honor those who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” Mourners paid tribute to the Civil War dead by decorating their graves with flowers. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
By 1868 several cities were claiming to be the first city to host local observances, including Richmond and Macon. The date was later moved to May 30 and they decorated the graves of World War I and World War II veterans, as well. With time, the holiday became known as Memorial Day. President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo – where patriotic celebrations began in 1866 – because the town had held an annual, community-wide event. Businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
The holiday was officially designated as Memorial Day in 1971, and it was placed on the last Monday of each May, providing a three-day holiday. So this year, when you go to the beach or lake, when you cook outside and hang out with family and friends, remember those whose lives are worthy of remembrance. They gave their lives for their God and country. Let’s remember them with thankful hearts. And in the tradition of John A. Logan, why not visit a cemetery? And decorate a grave.