What is Memorial Day?
Every year we celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. This national holiday brings thoughts of backyard BBQs and spending the long weekend with family and friends for most Americans.
Yet for some military families, this holiday is a day of heartache remembering a loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in combat. While Memorial Day wasn’t formally created until the late 1960s, the idea of taking time to memorialize those men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military dates back to the early 1860s.
Memorial Day was created out of the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves to remember their lives and honor their sacrifice. Originally, loved ones would come from far away to participate in “decoration day” activities, which were held at cemeteries. It was often like a family reunion. They would decorate the graveyard to honor their fallen soldier and then have a dinner on the grounds. Over the years, this holiday of remembrance has transitioned into our modern day backyard BBQs with friends and families.
Local “Decoration Days” became state holidays in each of the fifty states by 1890. Finally in 1968, the last Monday in May became our nationally celebrated Memorial Day.
While upholding the traditions of gathering family and friends for Memorial Day is easy, you may find yourself not knowing how to participate in honoring those fallen warriors on this holiday. Here are some great ways to help your holiday include remembrance:
Participate in decorating at a military cemetery or monument
Did you know the Cemetery Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs currently maintains 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers lots and monument sites? There is likely a national cemetery closer to your home than you think! The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation is an organization that works to place flowers on every fallen soldier’s grave. Volunteers – both groups and individuals – are welcome to volunteer in this effort.
If you cannot participate directly in decorating, you can sponsor memorial floral wreaths at monuments through the Memorial Day Foundation. Similarly, you can donate financially to the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation to help with placing flowers on the graves.
Support the families of the fallen
There are many great organizations who support the family members of service members who died in combat. Each organization offers different support from grief counseling to meeting financial needs. You can honor a fallen warrior through supporting the surviving family through the work of one of these great survivor support organizations.
Observe the National Moment of Remembrance
The National Moment of Remembrance, was first recognized in 2000 by a Congressional Resolution and a Presidential Proclamation. It designates 3:00pm local time each Memorial Day as an opportunity to pause in an act of national unity for one minute of silence. During this moment, we can reflect on the cost of our freedom and honor the men and women who passed in military service.
Fly the flag correctly
Fly the flag at half-staff until noon. At noon raise the flag to full-staff. Accoring to the U.S. code, flying the flag at half-staff is meant to honor those who have passed during war. Raising the flag to full-staff at noon honors the living.
Share a personal tribute on social media
Memorial Day is the perfect time to share a tribute to a beloved friend or family who died in military service. For instance, share a photo and a written tribute about what your fallen hero and their service meant to you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram—or all of the above!