Thursday, May 25, 2017

Honoring the fallen with 20 facts about Memorial Day

1. Memorial Day is a United States national holiday that’s reserved for the last Monday in May every year. However, the weekend before that Monday is often celebrated with picnics and barbecues, parades and events, and family outings.

2. In fact, nearly 32 million people take car trips over the Memorial Day weekend every year.

3. It also informally signals the start of summer, with Labor Day in September marking the end.

4. But, of course, the real reason we observe Memorial Day is to pay tribute to soldiers that have lost their lives fighting for this nation.

5. Our Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day.” When the modern holiday of Memorial Day was born out of respect for fallen solders during the Civil War, graves were decorated with flowers, wreaths, and flags – hence “Decoration Day.”

6. 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, leading to universal commemorations that spawned Memorial Day. That death toll is shocking when you consider that it’s more soldier casualties than both World War I (116,516 dead) and World War II (405,399 dead) combined!

7. Instead of being a holiday instituted by the government, Memorial Day grew out of simultaneous organic tributes to soldiers that came home in a coffin. As early as 1864 there are accounts of flowers put on graves of the dead after the Battle Of Gettysburg, followed by women decorating military graves in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The movement took a big step in 1866, when women from Columbus, Mississippi adorned graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers with flowers. 

8. In 1866, 219 Civil War veterans paraded through Carbondale, Illinois in a sign of respect, while that same year, an annual community service event began in Waterloo, New York. Waterloo is still recognized by Congress as the birthplace of Memorial Day.

9. The name morphed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day as early as the 1880s, but it became official in 1967.

10. Fallen soldiers are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia right across the river from Washington D.C. In fact, there are more than 300,000 gravestones at Arlington Cemetery, with an average of 28 more burials each day.

11. Most people don’t realize that Memorial Day hasn’t always been observed on the last Monday of May. Since the end of the Civil War, most people celebrated the holiday on May 30.

12. But when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed in 1971, Memorial Day was permanently moved to the last Monday of May to ensure that people have a three-day holiday weekend.

13. Although not an official requirement, it’s customary for United States flags to be raised at half-staff on Memorial Day, although only until noon. After that, it’s raised proudly to the top of the flagpole until sunset.

14. Did you know that we’re required to stop whatever we’re doing and observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day? In fact, it’s now U.S. law after Congress passed a law in 2 000, which was signed by President Clinton!

15. Traces of the Civil War's separatism are still evident today, as several states observe a Confederate Memorial Day. Nine states have an official designated day to honor those soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia.

16. A popular icon to remember and honor our fallen troops is the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God,” reads the inscription on the tomb that holds the remains of the first Unknown Soldier.

17. Interestingly, although only six bones of that soldier remain there, recent DNA testing allowed the identity of the Unknown Soldier to be ascertained. In fact, it’s an Air Force pilot named Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who died when his jet crashed during the Vietnam Conflict in 1972. His remains were then reburied in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier remains empty these days.

18. On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2,500 motorcyclists rode into Washington, D.C. for the first annual Rolling Thunder rally to advocate for MIA and POW soldiers. The tradition grew year by year, and now, over half a million veterans and concerned citizens come to Washington D.C. for this mass demonstration every Memorial Day.

19. In decades past, a common American tradition was to go with family and eat a picnic on the grounds of a cemetery. Although it isn’t widespread today, there are still people in areas of the South that observe this ritual.

20. But people still visit cemeteries on Memorial Day to lay flags on the graves of deceased soldiers, plant flowers, and honor their own fallen loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

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