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Memorial Day Now Much More than Trivia

Memorial Day means a lot more to me now than it used to. On that day, I used to remember countless, nameless, unknown (to me personally) fallen heroes. Oh, I think that I was patriotic enough, but I had had no direct, personal stake in the holiday until 2006.

Since that year, however, I have included among those whom I honor on Memorial Day one of my own family. My nephew, Captain Justin Peterson, USMC, was killed in Iraq on September 30, 2006. That puts the entire Memorial Day holiday in an entirely different light. Now Memorial Days will never be the same. I offer the following information in this blog posting to Justin’s honor.

So you think that you know about Memorial Day? Take this little quiz and see how well you really know it.

  1. Who started Memorial Day?

The experts differ on the answer to this question. It depends primarily on where you live.

Southerners trace the roots of the holiday to a Southern belle from Virginia named Casandra Oliver Moncure, who supposedly began the practice of honoring fallen Confederate soldiers during the War Between the States.

Northerners, however, tend to give the credit to John Logan, a Union general who organized a club of Northern veterans into the Grand Army of the Republic. As leader of this group, he supposedly started the Memorial Day tradition in 1868.

2. Does everyone celebrate Memorial Day?

Practically everyone in the United States now recognizes Memorial Day, but that was not always the case. For a long time, the Southern states celebrated their own Confederate Memorial Day. They considered the holiday that Logan started to be a “Yankee holiday.”

Since the “late unpleasantness,” however, Northerners and Southerners alike have fought in seven major wars side-by-side. Fighting together in khaki, olive drab, and jungle or desert camo has set aside differences between the blue and the gray. Memorial Day is now in honor of all our nation’s fallen heroes, not just those of one region.

3. How was the date chosen?

Logan arbitrarily declared May 30 to be the date for the first Memorial Day, and for many years people just followed that precedent until it became a tradition. Congress, however, later changed the date to the last Monday in May, permitting workers to have a long weekend during which to celebrate and travel.

In some Southern states, a memorial day is also celebrated on April 26, in others on May 10, and in a few on June 3. The latter date is the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the first (and only) president of the Confederacy.

4. Has it always been called Memorial Day?

No, it was also at one time called “Decoration Day,” a name that came from the practice of “decorating” the graves of fallen soldiers by placing flowers and flags on their graves. It has also been called “Poppy Day” because former servicemen sometimes sold poppies on that day to benefit disabled veterans.

5. Who is responsible for Memorial Day now?

The American Legion currently directs official Memorial Day ceremonies. With a membership of more than two-and-a-half-million, it is the largest veterans organization in the United States. Unofficial events, however, are held all across the nation and sponsored by countless patriotic and civic organizations.

6. In what ways is Memorial Day celebrated?

Originally, the celebration was limited to decorating graves and having memorial services. Today, parades and concerts are held featuring veterans groups, scout troops, bands, Andrews Sisters imitators, and a variety of local, state, and national dignitaries. The flag is also always prominently displayed. At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, a wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of all unidentified servicemen and women who died in service to their country.

7. How many service members are being honored?

More than 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War. These were the ones who were originally honored on Memorial Day. With the expansion of the holiday to all fallen service personnel, that number has grown to at least more than two million.

I’m sure that many of my readers will be, as I now do, remembering a special family member on this important holiday. Thank you for the sacrifice you have made for your country.

Now that you know a little more about Memorial Day, why not share it? When you’re at a parade or concert and someone muses aloud, “I wonder who thought up Memorial Day?” enlighten him or her. More importantly, thank the Lord that all of the people whom we’re honoring gave the ultimate sacrifice that you and I might enjoy our freedom. But most importantly, let’s all pledge that we will not merely enjoy but also now do our part to preserve what they gave us.

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