Lost in the sounds of jet skis roaring on the lake and delicious scents of family cookouts, is the real reason we Americans celebrate Memorial Day. The holiday was established to remember the men and women in the United States Armed Forces who have died while serving their country. Memorial Day is sometimes confused with Veterans Day, but the latter celebrates the service of all U.S. Military – living and dead.
The first Memorial Day was called “Decoration Day” and began during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) to commemorate the great loss of life that occurred within both the Northern and Southern armies. Following the Civil War, in 1865, the federal government began to establish military cemeteries to honor the fallen of the Union forces and these military burial grounds further encouraged a specific date for commemoration of these soldiers’ ultimate sacrifice.
Even before this first organized Memorial Day, there was a rural tradition of family members gathering at cemeteries on a Sunday during the late spring or early summer to remember their loved ones. Those who died in military service were given special attention and American flags were displayed on their graves. Some historians have noted the first date chosen for Memorial Day – May 30 – was chosen because this is a time when spring flowers are in full bloom.
Memorial Day became an official holiday over 100 years after it was first observed. On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. This moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.
Interestingly, some military veteran organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, have recently advocated a return of Memorial Day to May 30th. These groups feel including this observance as a part of a three-day holiday weekend – when the summer holiday typically begins – undermines the objective of the holiday. In 1987, the late U.S. Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, a man who was injured serving in World War II, introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its original date. To date, there has been no vote on this measure.
What Can You Do This Memorial Day?
Anyone who has lost a friend or family member in military combat knows how helpless this feeling can be. Men and women serving in the military services are typically young and are just starting their lives and families. When they are killed in battle, the emotional effects are compounded by the practical, survival demands placed on their loved ones. We believe the best way to honor these heroes in the United States is to honor and assist the families they left behind.
This Memorial Day is an excellent time to consider contributing either funds or volunteer time to organizations that help the families of our fallen soldiers. To that end, we’ve identified a few organizations helping the families of wounded or deceased soldiers and have included links to their websites for your consideration. There are many more excellent organizations dedicated to helping the families of these American heroes and if you are aware of them and would prefer to support them, please do so.
Here are some organizations for you to consider supporting:
Carry the Load Dallas 2013 – You can donate to this organization online and/or join the 20-hour Memorial Day march on the Katy Trail, May 26 – 27. Click here to learn more about this organization’s plans for Memorial Day weekend.
Operation Homefront – You may have heard that this group, supported by singer Tim McGraw, is raising money to give mortgage-free homes to the families of soldiers killed in action.
Wounded Warrior Project – Sometimes coming home injured is even more traumatic for families than a death. This group helps those soldiers who are wounded in action.
Help the Children – This group offers military families assistance while the primary caregiver is serving our country.
Charles Ives’ Decoration Day
Because it commemorates the passing of so many men and women in combat, Memorial Day is a very contemplative and even sad occasion. However, this holiday and the sacrifices these heroes have made on our behalf have moved some artists to create something beautiful. Composer Charles Ives was one of these.
As the son of an U.S. Army bandleader during the Civil War, Ives spent many years honing his musical craft. He was a prominent church organist and composer of hymns and several symphonies. Most consider his A Symphony: New England Holidays to be his masterpiece. In this work, which took Ives 9 years to complete, he celebrated the American holidays including Memorial Day. Here is the movement of the symphony which is called “Decoration Day.”
Texas Back Institute wants to thank the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.