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Civics Sunday: Memorial Day

by Yvette Cain
May 26, 2019

When I was 11, I played a bugle in a drum and bugle corps.  Yearly we played several parades, including those for Memorial Day.  Marching down streets in different towns, I only thought of my music, my feet marching to the beat, and the weather conditions. 

When I was 11, I played a bugle in a drum and bugle corps.  Yearly we played several parades, including those for Memorial Day.  Marching down streets in different towns, I only thought of my music, my feet marching to the beat, and the weather conditions. 

I wondered about the hoopla; understood why there were parades and celebrations for July 4.  But the purpose of parades on Memorial Day, (“…For the holiday;” “…To remember the war,”) eluded me.   It would be years—perhaps not until well after I left high school--before I’d actually fully understand.  

The large, extended family picnic we’d attend afterwards was answer enough for me as a child: the day celebrated the occasion of our gathering.  Good food, good company, frequent and raucous laughter, a long day to welcome the coming summer. 

Celebrated the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, also known as Decoration Day, is an American holiday that remembers the men and women who died while serving in the US military.  It originated following the Civil War (1861-65) and became an official federal holiday in 1971. 

The lives lost during the Civil War were great—620,000, according to various records.  So many soldiers died that the United States established our first national cemeteries.  Towns and cities began honoring these fallen soldiers at spring events, when they decorated their graves with flowers and recited prayers. 

On the first Decoration Day, then General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.  Five thousand people decorated the 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there. 

Early Decoration Days honored only the fallen of the Civil War.  But following our participation in World War I, another major conflict, Memorial Day began to honor all American military personnel who died in all wars. 

In 1968 Congress passed the uniform Monday Holiday Act, which designated Memorial Day observation on the last Monday in May so as to create a 3-day weekend for federal employees.  The same law declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.  The change became effective in 1971.  Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance occurs at 3:00 PM local time.

We continue to visit cemeteries and hold tributes to fallen soldiers today.  Scouts in Holliston decorated gravesites last Thursday.  Speeches and marching veterans honor fallen soldiers from all our wars with our annual parade on Monday. 

Because Memorial Day ushers in the summer season, it is celebrated with joyous as well as somber events.  The picnics, barbecues, and family gatherings of my youth are repeated in towns and cities across the nation.  Perhaps my best understanding of Memorial Day is as the fusion point of the “circle of life”—the reverence we pay to the fallen united to happy fellowship with our living.



Next week’s Civics Sunday will present you with a short survey to elicit your interests, concerns, and curiosities of all things related to civics. 

Our hope is to continue this column in a variety of directions that lead us, Yvette and Chris, and all our neighbors to a deeper understanding of our place in the community of Holliston and the greater place we call home. 


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Comments (1)

Thank you, Evette Cain, for a very good explanation of Memorial Day. Many are confused about its essential meaning. First we should honor the men and women who gave their lives to protect the ideals of this country. Most are veterans of the military, but there were many civilians who sacrificed their lives in defense of our nation as well. Memorial Day is for all of them, and it is all right to celebrate the costly contribution to our nation their sacrifice signifies. They successfully gave to secure us the life we enjoy. Memorial day should also be dedicated to a sincere effort to prolong the achievements of those we honor, so we do not have to ask our citizens to go through another round of war. We know how to avoid it. Stand up and do the things that can prevent more memorial days all over the world! That is what we owe those we honor now.

- John Losch | 5/27/19 12:08 AM



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