BY RANDAL C. HILL
In December 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law The National Moment of Remembrance Act, a legal requirement stating that at 3 p.m. each Memorial Day, every American citizen is to observe a moment of respect for fallen soldiers everywhere.
One has to wonder how many folks actually observe this law – or even know
How many of us
on Memorial Day
without knowing it?
Memorial Day was initially called Decoration Day, and its initial celebration
took place on May 30, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended. The date
was established by Major General John A. Logan who knew that flowers would
be in bloom nationwide at that time. The first remembrance was dedicated by
General James Garfield (he wasn’t president yet) at the Arlington National
Cemetery, which, until 1864, had been Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s
At the time, Decoration Day honored only fallen Union soldiers, with flowers,
flags and wreaths placed on their tombstones. In the South, women in Columbus,
Miss. laid flowers on the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers
in the city’s Friendship Cemetery, proclaiming their own first Decoration Day
Later, Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans
from both sides who worked for the U. S. government to honor their deceased
comrades without being docked a day’s pay. After World War I, the day was
expanded to honor the war dead from all American wars.
Although it wasn’t official until 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday
Holiday Act in 1968, thus setting Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and
ensuring a three-day weekend for federal employees.
Some Southern states still retain Confederate Memorial Days, with Florida,
Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee,
Texas and Virginia choosing dates in January, April, May and June to pay tribute.
If you display Old Glory on Memorial Day, be aware that all flags should be
flown at half-mast until noon, at which time they are to be raised to the top of
the staff and lowered at day’s end.
Today people observe Memorial Day in many different ways with some
visiting cemeteries and memorials and others enjoying barbecues, picnics and
pool parties. Some may reflect quietly on the gravitas of the day or perhaps
recall the words of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose classic 1882
poem “Decoration Day” honored the military fallen and ended with these
Your silent tents of green/We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been/The memory shall be ours
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