How do you honor fallen Service members on Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a time to honor the lives, courage and legacy of fallen service members.
Each Memorial Day veterans from the VFW make millions of poppies to remember their fallen comrades. These are their stories.
Also, archivist Rod Ross brings meaning to the intention of the founder of Memorial Day, John A. Logan, whose 1868 proclamation led to today’s holiday. - Memorial Day: Why It Matters
In 2000, only 28% of Americans understood the true meaning of Memorial Day (www.ngl.org). It is important that we do not forget the sacrifices of our military service members. We must pause to honor, reflect and remember the precious lives lost while fighting in war.
The facts and information that follows is Operation We Are Here's efforts to re-educate and reinform Americans regarding the importance of Memorial Day and provide meaningful ways to honor the fallen.
What is Memorial Day about? Here are some quick facts...
- Memorial Day is a national holiday set aside to honor military service members who died fighting in a war.
- Memorial Day is sometimes confused with Veterans Day. On Veterans Day, November 11, we thank and honor those who served in the military.
- Major General John A. Logan, a Civil War veteran, founded Memorial Day in 1868. Following the Civil War, a small group of women went to a cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi and honored the Soldiers of both the North and the South by putting flowers on their graves.
- Memorial day was initially called Decoration Day because graves were decorated with flowers and flags. In May of 1874, Mrs. Laura D. Richardson of Knoxville, Tennessee, Chairperson of a committee to obtain flowers for decorating the graves in the national cemetery of Knoxville, saw flags in a store window. She had an idea and subsequently purchased the flags and had the local lumber mill provide the wood for tiny flagpoles. This began the movement to decorate graves with flags.
- It was changed to Memorial Day to put the emphasis on the Fallen, not the graves.
- Initially it was observed on May 30, but in 1971, when it became a national holiday, Congress changed it to the last Monday of May to create a three-day weekend. This change, some argued, would contribute to Americans neglecting the true meaning and observances of the holiday.
- Poppies, a symbol of death in war, have been worn on Memorial Day since 1915 to remember the Fallen. This movement was initiated by an American teacher named Moina Michael who read the well-known poem by a Canadian military doctor, "In Flander's Fields."
- Flags In takes place at Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemetery every Friday before Memorial Day. The 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) honors the Fallen by placing American flags before the gravestones and niches of service members buried there. It takes approximately three hours to place the flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones. The Old Guard soldiers remain in the cemetery throughout the weekend to ensure that a flag remains at each gravestone.
- Every year on Memorial Day, the president of the United States gives a speech and places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery.
- "Taps" is often played at Memorial Day ceremonies.
- On Memorial Day, batteries on military installations fire a 21-gun salute to the nation's Fallen. Batteries at Naval stations and on ships also fire a salute of 21-minute guns.
- In an effort to remind and re-education Americans about the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day was established by Congress in 2000. Americans are asked to pause at 3 p.m. local time and remember the Fallen.
- In 1989 a bill was introduced to Congress to restore the traditional day of Memorial Day to May 30 in an effort to reinstate the neglected observance of Memorial Day. Every two years following, the bill was re-introduced. Learn more...
- To this day, many Americans still do not understand the true meaning of Memorial Day, nor do they take any measures to observe Memorial Day for what it was established to be.
Meaningful Memorial Day quotes
"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." -- Nathan Hale, American patriot
“The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance.” - Herman Wouk
"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather we should thank God that such men lived." - General George S. Patton
"That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." -- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863
"The 30th 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 churchyard in the land...." -- General John A. Logan
"Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic." -- General Logan, 1868
"Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan." -- General Logan, 1868
"This Memorial Day, on which we decorate their graves with the tokens of love and affection, is no idle ceremony with us, to pass away an hour; but it brings back to our minds in all their vividness the fearful conflicts of that terrible war in which they fell as victims.... Let us, then, all unite in the solemn feelings of the hour, and tender with our flowers the warmest sympathies of our souls! Let us revive our patriotism and love of country by this act, and strengthen our loyalty by the example of the noble dead around us...." -- General Logan, May 30, 1870
"All of us hope and pray that the time will come when we no longer need to dedicate memorials to men who died in battle--that we will dedicate memorials to those who live in peace--to all nations and all men." -- Senator Frank G. Moss, USS Utah Memorial ground breaking, December 7, 1971
"The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden." -- Ronald Reagan, Memorial Day speech, 1982
"To preserve the peace, we must never forget the sacrifices that have paved the way to peace." -- Bill Clinton, Memorial Day Address, 2000
"Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." -- VFW Memorial Day address, 2002
"They defended our nation, they liberated the oppressed, they served the cause of peace. And all Americans who have known the loss and sadness of war, whether recently or long ago, can know this: The person they love and miss is honored and remembered by the United States of America." -- George W. Bush, Memorial Day Address, 2004
Here are some suggestions, opportunities, and other insights...
- Active duty military or recent veterans ~ Consider volunteering as a mentor for the TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) Good Grief Camps for children and teens. Learn more...
- The Murph Challenge - Pledge to participate in the Crossfit Hero WOD ‘MURPH’ (originally named ‘Body Armor’) and join a unique group of Americans who pay tribute to Michael P. Murphy (SEAL), and donate to a prestigious organization founded by the Murphy family.
- Watch Honor Flight: One Last Mission, a film about four living World War II veterans and a Midwest community coming together to give them the trip of a lifetime. Honor Flight the Movie is available on DVD from Amazon. With a portion of all proceeds going to flying more vets, you can help honor our nation's greatest heroes today. (May not be suitable for children.)
- Help your local veterans groups (VFW, American Legion, etc.) to replace worn out grave markers/flags of deceased veterans at your local cemetery. Some civic groups or Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops put flags or flowers on veteran's graves on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Consider your cemetery's guidelines.
- Visit a local or national cemetery. If you would like to locate persons with who were Medal of Honor recipients, visit this list of national cemeteries and click on your state. On the state page, choose a cemetery and under it, there should be a list for notable persons who are Medal of Honor Recipients.
- "Happy Memorial Day!" Pull that phrase from your vocabulary; it is disrespectful. Would you really say that to a war widow or Gold Star family? As one military spouse says, "It's kind of like saying Happy "lots of people died" Day."
- Take a moment to read, When Every Day is Memorial Day (a Military.com Spouse Buzz guest blog entry), written by a Gold Star spouse. Some gave all, and their loved ones experience the cost of freedom...in every moment... every day.
- Pause at 3:00 p.m. local time for the duration of one minute on Memorial Day for the National Moment of Remembrance. This Memorial Day, IAVA will lay a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and later pause for a moment of silence at 3PM EST. Gather your friends and family across the country and pause with us for a national moment of silence to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
- Churches, here are website links to help you incorporate Memorial Day into your service:
- Visit a war memorial, war monument or a military museum.
- Fly your flag at half-mast from sunrise until noon only, then raise it briskly to the top of the staff until sunset. This may be a good time to check the condition of your flag. If it is time to replace it, do not throw it away; bring it to your local American Legion for proper disposal. Learn more about flag etiquette.
- Wear a poppy. They are available from American Legion Auxiliary volunteers and Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for donations to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in their local communities.
- Talk to your kids about Memorial Day. Read a book to educate them. Color a picture and send it to a veteran (we have many to choose from HERE!) Participate in an online scavenger hunt about Memorial Day. Discuss the Medal of Honor; download a free coloring book.Take time to do a poppy craft activity. Invite them to ask veteran family members about their wartime experiences. Ask them how they celebrate Memorial Day. Visit a nearby Veterans Hospital. Home school parents and teachers can utilize Memorial Day curriculum and activities found on this LINK.
- Write a "Letter to the Editor" of your local newspaper and remind your community about the true meaning of Memorial Day.
- While it is important to remember lives lost to war, it is also a time to celebrate their lives and their memory. (This reminder from a military widow.)
- While you enjoy the freedom we celebrate with family and friends this Memorial Day weekend, make the choice to incorporate the true meaning of Memorial Day in your celebration! Ask a veteran friend or family member what Memorial Day means to them. Collect money for an organization that supports the military community. If you know a Gold Star family, create a plan to support them.
This website details the nation's historic military burial ground in Arlington, Virginia.
General John A. Logan Museum
Major General John A. Logan was a Civil War veteran who founded Memorial Day in 1868.
Memorial Day History
A resourceful website which details the history of Memorial Day. The site also includes poetry, speeches, photos, links and tips on how to observe Memorial Day. Visit this LINK to read the orders of General Logan in the observance of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day Parade Listing (VetFriends)
Official Memorial Day parade listings.
National Memorial Day Concert
Live on PBS from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, May 28, from 8:00-9:30 pm ET (check local listings).
For over two decades, PBS's National Memorial Day Concert has led the nation in honoring the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, their families at home and all the fallen who have given their lives for our country.
National Memorial Day Parade
Washington, DC - Monday, May 29, 2017 starting at 2:00 p.m.
The National Memorial Day Parade, held annually along Constitution Avenue in our nation’s capital – Washington, DC – shares the story of American honor and sacrifice from across the generations. The parade, commemorating its thirteenth year, is our nation’s largest Memorial Day event, drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators to the National Mall to pay tribute to those who have served, are serving, and most importantly those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our country. The National Memorial Day Parade is a moving timeline of American military history, honoring those who have served and sacrificed from the American Revolution to the present day. It draws on the tradition of Memorial Day parades, going back to the beginning of the holiday just after the Civil War, to create a family friendly event aimed at calling attention to the true meaning of Memorial Day – honoring our fallen heroes.
The History Channel
This website includes, videos, speeches, photos and interactives.
US Federal Holidays - Memorial Day
Describes the history of Memorial Day and lists common activities that occur on Memorial Day.
VA - Memorial Day
The Department of Veterans Affairs' Memorial Day resources.
Waterloo Memorial Day Museum
Waterloo, New York, is the only federally recognized birthplace of Memorial Day.