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"Soldier, rest! thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking."

-Sir Walter Scott


Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. A hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.  It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings.


General John A. Logan
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-B8172- 6403 DLC (b&w film neg.)]

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on May 30th, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).  It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress in 1968 to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional, separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19th in Texas, April 26th in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10th in South Carolina; and June 3rd (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

In 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war.  She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in Biography Moina Belle Michaelneed.  Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for the war orphaned children and widowed women.  This tradition spread to other countries.  In 1948 the United States Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd United States Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.  They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.  Most other National Cemeteries have followed suit.

And since 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program).

Taps Lyrics and HistoryBut most Americans have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day.  To help Americans re-educate and remind them of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed in December, 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps.

Additionally, on January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced bill S 189 to the Senate which proposes to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th instead of "the last Monday in May". On April 19, 1999 Representative Gibbons introduced the bill to the House (H.R. 1474). The bills were referred the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Government Reform.


Taps ~ History ~ Lyrics ~ Midi


A Beautiful Tribute

How To Observe Memorial Day



From the Revolution to Reconstruction
a Comprehensive Timeline of the History
of the United States


The Constitution of the
United States of America

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The Bill of Rights


The Declaration of Independence
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History of The American Flag ~ 
How To Display and Fold the American Flag



The Magna Carta
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The Mayflower Compact
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The Emancipation Proclamation
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I Am The Flag ~ Tributes to the American Flag



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Acknowledgements  ~  Information Courtesy
©David Merchant ~ © U.S. Army ~ ©Rocky Chaplin
©Ruth Apperson Rous ~ © Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
© Georgia Women of Achievement






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