For many Americans, the end of May signifies the onset of summer, pools reopen, and barbecue grills are dusted off. But on the last weekend in May, Americans come together to reflect and honour the sacrifices of fallen soldiers.
Commemorated on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day is a time for our southerly neighbours to honour and salute the men and women who have died during their military service. Similar to Remembrance Day in Canada, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and the graves of soldiers at national cemeteries are adorned with American flags.
Flags across the country are flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, and then raised briskly to the top until sunset to honour the fallen.
Also on Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
“The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honour those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: ‘It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day,’” states the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
The history of Memorial Day can be traced back to just after the Civil War when, on May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of Republic, a union organization of veterans, established Decoration Day as a day to decorate the graves of the war dead. Decoration Day was declared on May 30.
That year a large observance was held at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.
“The ceremonies centred around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns,” stated the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
In December 2000, a moment of silence was added to Memorial Day by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by the president. “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” was instated to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity.”