On Monday, Americans around the country will gather to remember our fallen veterans and show their appreciation for their service. It is on this day that our beautiful state is at its best, with crowds respectfully assembled on our town greens, resplendent with waving flags and colorful spring flowers. There is a wonderful, heightened sense of community, and a shared recognition that we would not be able to enjoy the peace and beauty around us today were it not for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice throughout our history.
Memorial Day was officially celebrated as Decoration Day for the first time three years after the end of the Civil War, certainly one of the most devastating conflicts ever to have affected Americans. Many local celebrations had been held before then, but it was Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, leader of a Union veterans’ organization, who issued a proclamation and arranged the first official ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The date may have been chosen because of the seasonal profusion of flowers.
While many states held their own observances for years, Memorial Day was not declared a national holiday until 1971, when an act of Congress scheduled it on the last Monday in May and designated it as a day of thanks and remembrance for fallen veterans of all wars.
Memorial Day traditions have many hallmarks – parades, ceremonies, patriotic songs, picnics, family gatherings, flags, flowers. One of the traditions many forget – perhaps because it is a relatively recent one – is the National Moment of Remembrance, which was signed into federal law just over a decade ago. It encourages all Americans to observe one minute of silence on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm, to honor those who have died in the country’s service.
People have different ways of expressing and of feeling honor, reverence, grief, and gratitude. Many feel it’s most appropriate to commemorate an occasion like Memorial Day by attending or participating in a parade or a solemn public ceremony, while others prefer to gather with friends or family to celebrate the joys of freedom. Still others may prefer to reflect in solitude.
The most important thing is respectfully to commemorate Memorial Day and what it stands for. Go to your town center and watch a parade. Attend a ceremony. Fly a flag. Pay your respects to the family of a fallen veteran. Spend time with friends or family and make a toast to those who have given their lives for the country. Or just take a minute of silence at 3:00 pm to think about what the day means to you, to your family, and to all Americans.
Whatever you do, keep the memory of it with you throughout the year. There are so many ways to remember, as long as we never, ever forget.
My best to you and your family for this Memorial Day, and I hope to see many of you as we gather in our towns to honor our fallen veterans.