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About Memorial Day

The origins of Memorial Day are in dispute. Some are of the view that the practice of honoring our war dead began in the South after our Civil War. Others believe the practice started in various cities or towns (more than a score of places claim they were the first, often calling it Decoration Day). In 1966, Waterloo, New York, was declared the birthplace of the day now known as Memorial Day.

The practice of officially honoring our war dead was originally limited to honoring those Union soldiers who died during our Civil War and was usually observed on May 30 of each year. The first known order, by General Logan in 1868, established the day for "the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country. . . After WWI the holiday was extended to include all of our war dead from all conflicts. And, the day is also now used by many communities to also honor those who currently serve and veterans, many of whom will participate in local parades dressed in uniform.

Eventually, the last Monday in May was selected as the official day for Memorial Day and declared a federal holiday (a day on which federal employees are generally paid but do not work; whether military personnel have time off depends on their military unit's requirements). States and some private employers have followed suit and often their employees also receive a paid holiday for Memorial Day. Because there is a three-day weekend when federal, state and private employees get a holiday, some now refer to this period as Memorial Day Weekend and use this time to mark the beginning of summer, holding picnics, BBQs and family gatherings.

The red poppy has been associated with Memorial Day from about 1915 and has been attributed to Moina Michael, who began wearing one. She sold red poppies to wear as a fundraiser, with the proceeds going to benefit veterans and servicemembers. Red Poppies are still sold today by some veterans organizations as fundraisers.

Some Americans mistakenly believe that Memorial Day is a time for remembrance of anyone who has passed away, not realizing that it is a day set aside to honor our war dead. Sadly, many do not know of it as anything other than a day off from work, or a day that many retailers hold a sale.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Memorial Day since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and our Country's response involving military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of the world. Public ignorance of the meaning of the day has thus changed somewhat. As a result, there has also been a resurgence of interest in more properly celebrating Memorial Day in many communities across the land.

How To Observe Memorial Day

We've compiled the following list of proper ways to observe Memorial Day based mostly on things we've done over the years:
* Fly your American Flag at half-staff until noon that day.

* Visit a local cemetery to honor local war dead, or a nearby National Cemetery. (Because some Memorial Day Events are now sometimes scheduled for the Saturday or Sunday before Memorial Day, you should check with cemetery officials to learn of any special events honoring our war dead.) Offer to help clean up the gravesites, place flags at gravesites, or just walk the grounds to reflect and pay homage to those who died for your freedom. Find a National Cemetery near you.

* Visit a War Memorial to honor those who sacrificed so much. Read the inscriptions. Say a prayer for them and their families.

* Participate in a parade on Memorial Day, or attend one. Take your children to the parades and encourage them to enter bicycle decorating or other contests that allow them to express their patriotism. Teach them to honor our American Flag when it passes by.

* Participate in a Moment of Remembrance when a moment of silence is encouraged and Taps or "Echo Taps" is performed. Echo Taps is a beautiful, soulful and haunting performance of Taps in the round, played simultaneously by numerous buglers.

* Help local widows or widowers and children of those killed in action, or parents or other Gold Star family members. Gold Star family members are those who have lost a loved one during a conflict. Show a simple kindness by fixing them a meal or inviting them to your BBQ, cutting their lawn for them, or helping them with some other task. These are especially nice things to do for those who have lost loved ones in the recent War on Terror and the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Honor the buddies of our war dead by helping a local veteran with a yard or household task, invite them to dinner or take them a hot dish, or help with any other task. This is an especially nice gift to offer to a disabled veteran.

* Visit a veteran who is currently hospitalized at a VA Hospital and thank them for their service to our Country. These men and women would be cheered by the fact that you have remembered them and their lost buddies. Find a VA Hospital near you.

* Send a Memorial Day Greeting Card to a Gold Star family member, a veteran, or anyone who is currently serving in our Armed Forces.

* Attend a function sponsored by a local veterans organization as many of them stage fund-raising brunches or spaghetti dinners. Give them a donation. Buy their raffle tickets. Or, better yet, donate your time and help out at a fundraising event.

* When you see a veteran or an active-duty servicemember, national guardsman or reservist, stop and shake their hand and say, "Thank You!" You should do this every day, of course. But make a special point of doing so on Memorial Day.

* If you are a school teacher, have your class adopt a local military gravesite, or even the whole cemetery, so they learn to take care of those who sacrificed so much to ensure the freedoms they now enjoy. Give the buried dead a Spring clean-up by raking leaves and removing other debris, planting a few flowers or placing an American Flag at the graves (if permitted). Or, have the schoolchildren make cards to give to a local VA Hospital for distribution to hospitalized veterans.

* If you are a business, encourage your employees to participate in Memorial Day activities such as those outlined above, and set the example by making sure that key management personnel actively participate in the event(s).

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