Why we celebrate Memorial Day

It’s the Memorial Day weekend - and you know what that means.

It’s the Memorial Day weekend – and you know what that means.

No, not the start of summer, backyard barbecues or three-day sales at stores throughout the area.

The day, specifically Monday, is when we honor those in our Armed Forces who have died in battle.

It’s not surprising that many may have forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day. After all, it was begun to honor those who died in our Civil War, and none of those veterans are around any more.

Then, it was called Decoration Day when people would decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.

Historians tell us that the first observance of Memorial Day was in 1865 by liberated slaves and took place at the historic race track in Charleston, S.C. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive.

The day was celebrated by a parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers, followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.

The official birthplace of Memorial Day came a year later in Waterloo, N.Y. There, on May 5 – and each year thereafter – the village observed the event. Reports say that the friendship of a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who led the call for the day to be observed each year, was a key factor.

Though the Union won the war, Logan was impressed by how the South honored its dead on a special day. He decided the Union needed a similar day.

In 1868, he declared that there should be a “Decoration Day” and it was celebrated that year on May 30.

Memorial Day became the official name in 1967. A year later Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend.

Memorial Day became the last Monday in May.

This weekend, when your thoughts turn to family and fun, consider, too, the reason we have this day in history. Brave men and women gave their lives to defend this country. Take a moment to remember.

Craig Groshart is the editor of the Bellevue Reporter. Contact him at 425-453-4233, or by e-mail at cgroshart@reporternewspapers.com.

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