Chicago Observing Memorial Day with a Parade circa 1921. GGA Image ID # 1805549052
Memorial Day. Also known as "Decoration Day.” This anniversary originated in an order of General John A. Logan to the Grand Army of the Republic on 5 May 1868, in which he directed that the graves of veterans of the Civil War be decorated. It is an official national holiday observed on 30 May or, if that date occurs on Sunday, the next day.
It is the custom in many states that various veterans’ organizations decorate the graves with small American flags. (Today the ceremonies include all deceased military personnel).
The occasion is further observed with parades and ceremonies in which the Armed Forces, and veterans’ and civic organizations, participate. In some Southern States. Confederate Memorial Day is observed on a different day.
A nation is built on its memories. Happy the nation with noble and inspiring memories. Every nation commemorates certain events in its history that appeal to national pride or national emotions. The emotions that stir a whole nation are deeper and stronger than any man knows. Those emotions demand our highest respect—aye more, our honest reverence. Nations celebrate them and keep them in memory.
Since 1868, this nation has set aside one day each year to commemorate its soldier dead. The idea of thus honoring our soldiers was conceived by a soldier of the Civil War, Adjutant General N. P. Chipman. The suggestion struck a responsive chord in the hearts of American people that insured success. The first Memorial Day was observed by the whole nation.
The soldiers who were living marched together to the cemeteries and decorated the graves of their fallen comrades and held memorial services for them.
This beautiful service once observed could not be abandoned. Each year thereafter this memorial service was repeated. Each year the number of graves and the number of flags increased. Each year the number of those who marched became smaller, their step became feebler and some could march no longer. But still the nation remembered its soldiers on Memorial Day.
Then came other wars and other soldiers joined those who were sleeping. Other homes were broken, and other hearts were stricken. The comrades of these soldiers, too, march on Memorial Day—young men now beside the old. Again the line of those who march is long. Again we bow our heads in mourning for those recently gone from among us.
Memorial Day needs no proclamation to insure its observance. It is observed in the hearts of the people. It is a great national emotion of mingled pain and joy, born of untold loss. The loss to the nation of the finest and noblest of its splendid young manhood—who can measure it. It will be felt for many years to come. The gain is spiritual.
Out of the patriotic devotion and heroic sacrifice of these young men, was born a new body of inspiring memories to the nation. A new resolve came to the people to live worthy of this great sacrifice and to bring to pass the ideals for which the sacrifice was made.
A nation is built on its memories. Happy the nation with noble and inspiring memories. Long may we cherish the memory of our patriots!