Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?
by Diana DeLugan
Every year on Memorial Day weekend, my mother made sure that the photos of our family’s military men and women were displayed. For a woman with many physical ailments, displaying military photos was her small act of honoring our ancestors. As Memorial Day approaches, it seems befitting to give a little history about the Memorial Day celebration. Why do we celebrate it?
According to AmericasLibrary.gov, May 30th was officially designated as Memorial Day by Civil War Commander in Chief John A. Logan on May 30, 1868. It was initially called “Decoration Day,” as the day was intended to place flowers and decorate the graves of those who died during the American Civil War. In an interview with the Evening Star newspaper of Washington, D.C. on May 28, 1916, Mrs. John Logan said her husband reported that honoring the graves of fallen soldiers by decorating them with flowers was an ancient custom performed in old countries. Given the tremendous loss of life and sacrifice during the Civil War, Commander Logan dictated Order No. 11 to decorate the graves of Union soldiers.
Order No. 11 reminds us:
Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, nor ravages of time, testify to the present or coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
In 1971, Congress enacted a federal that expanded Memorial Day as a day to honor the fallen heroes of Americans who died in all other wars. If you are unable to lay flowers graveside, you can still honor our American heroes. The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center is accepting first-hand accounts from U.S. Veterans of:
- World War 1 (1914-1920)
- World War II (1939-1946)
- Korean War (150-1955)
- Vietnam War (1961-1975)
- Persian Gulf War (1990-1995)
- Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present)
Veterans or anyone familiar with the story of a veteran can contribute to this growing digital collection. Use this link to learn more about how you can contribute.
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If you are interested in learning about the contributions of our veterans, check out the existing Veterans History Project database or view the wealth of free resources identified as “Free” at Fold3, a service of Ancestry.
Our country’s collective history is intertwined with that of our veterans’ military service. Learn about and share our military history. As a country, our freedom and civil liberties have been protected by those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. On Memorial Day, take some time to peruse the following free archives and give silent homage to those who paved the way for freedom’s sake. Although this is not an exhaustive list, the resources are a wealth of information useful to remember our fallen veterans:
- Brady Civil War Photos
- Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database of the National Park Service
- Civil War Horse Soldier Artifacts Collection
- Final statements of deceased soldiers of the U.S. Infantry during and after the Civil War – 1862-1899
- George Washington Correspondence
- Heitman’s Register of the U.S. Army for an alphabetical list of officers that served in the U.S. Army from 1789-1903
- Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863-2013
- Navy and Marine Corps Officers, 1775-1900
- New York State Military Museum Photos (Civil War – Vietnam War)
- Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona Memorial
- Veterans Affairs Death File of enlisted men and women of U.S. Army during World War II
- Vietnam Army Photos
- Vietnam Marine Corps B/W Photos
- Vietnam Marine Corps Images and Archives
- Vietnam Navy Photos and Images
- Vietnam Service Awards
- WWI Panoramic Unit Photos
- WWII Air Force Photos
- WWII Army Enlistment Records
- WWII 27th Army Division Photos
- WWII Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Casualty List
Diana DeLugan, J.D., is a historian, singer, and author of Haunted Otero: Ghost Tales from the American Southwest is available on Amazon.com. Her second book, The Otero Arizona Land Grant Documentary, limited edition, is available at bookstores in Tubac, Arizona. Diana is the editor in chief at OurArizonaHistory.com and contributes a blog post here on the 20th of every month. For more information, visit her website, subscribe to her YouTube channel, follow her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or add her to your circles on Google+. Reach her directly at email@example.com.