Remembering Memorial Day
By Cheyanne Perkins
Arlington National Cemetery, circa 1867. | Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The history of Memorial Day is much more contested than one might expect. There has been quite a bit of disagreement over when and where the first celebration took place. One thing is certain, however—the holiday was established as a direct result of the Civil War, and the desire of Americans to properly honor those who sacrificed their lives to the conflict.
Several communities throughout the country held their own ceremonies for the remembrance of those who died, which accounts for the disputed origins of Memorial Day. One town has been officially designated as the “birthplace” of the holiday by the federal government, however. Exactly 150 years ago this month, the town of Waterloo, New York held a commemoration for local soldiers who had been killed in the war. One year had passed since the fighting had officially ended, and residents of Waterloo spent May 5, 1866 remembering their fallen and tending to their graves. In 1966, the town was declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the home of Memorial Day.
Two years after Waterloo’s tribute, General John Logan initiated “Decoration Day.” Thousands gathered at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868 to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. This practice was to become an annual tradition, and survives to this day. In 1968, Memorial Day was officially made a federal holiday, and its observance was set to move from the fixed date of May 30 to the last Monday of the month, beginning in 1971.
Although the holiday started as a way to honor Civil War soldiers, as the years passed, observances grew to include all of America’s fallen soldiers. Countless heroic Americans have given their lives in service to our country. Not all of them have been laid to rest at our national cemetery, or even within the borders of the United States, but they all deserve to be remembered and honored.
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is working with Texas Tech University to illuminate the experiences of Texan Liberators of World War II Nazi concentration camps. If you know of a Liberator who was born within the state, or resided here at some point, please submit their information here. We want to include every single serviceperson involved in the Liberation. Thank you.Tags: arlington national cemetery civil war decoration day holiday memorial day president lyndon johnson soldier