Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was started in 1868 to honor soldiers who had died in the American Civil War. While many towns and cities held their own remembrances, General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, was the first to proclaim a national day of honor. In a gesture of reconciliation, graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were to be visited and decorated with flowers.
After World War I, Decoration Day became “Memorial Day” and expanded to include those who died in World War I and subsequent wars. Inspired by Canadian soldier John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields (“In Flanders fields the poppies grow between the crosses, row on row…”), poppies became associated with Memorial Day after 1915. The VFW and other groups sold poppies for people to wear on their lapels, with the money going toward relief for needy servicemen, war widows, and orphans.
Memorial Day was held on May 30, until changed to the last Monday in May with the National Holiday Bill in 1971.
For more information about and ideas for observing Memorial Day, visit usmemorialday.org.
Remember the fallen.