By John E. Carey
May 26, 2007
Created by Civil War widows to honor their dead, Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day. The day marked the annual “decoration” of graves with flowers.
Today, Memorial Day honors all war dead, and, as at Arlington National Cemetery, it has become customary to decorate the graves with a small American Flag instead of flowers.
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 30, 1868.
On Memorial Day, at Arlington National Cemetery, traditionally the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The occasion is also marked in almost every State on the last Monday in May. Several southern states, however, have an additional, separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
The newest “tradition” perhaps of Memorial Day is the annual tribute to The Fallen in Washington DC provided by “Rolling Thunder.”
The major function of Rolling Thunder®, Inc. is to publicize POW-MIA issues: To educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war-missing in action.
Rolling Thunder is also committed to helping American veterans from all wars.
Rolling Thunder®, Inc. is a non-profit organization. Members donate their time because they believe in the issues they support.
Here is General Logan’s official order:
General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.
In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.”
What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes?