We’re within days of the Memorial Day weekend—and the unofficial start of summer—with most of us hoping to lay back, relax, and possibly fire up the grill, or maybe even head to the shore or the mountains.
Three whole days away from alarm clocks, work, and school, all thanks to the National Holiday Act of 1971 which moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May—and thus diminishing the day’s very intent.
As U.S. Air Force veteran Dan Littley put it at a 2012 Memorial Day ceremony, “The solemnity of this day has been forgotten. We’ve lost the reason for this holiday and have forgotten the men who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Back on May 5, 1868, Memorial Day was officially established by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization made up of Union Army veterans.
At the time he proclaimed: “Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
That May 30 marked the very first Memorial Day and was celebrated with the laying of flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. From then on, May 30 was the day set aside to honor fallen Civil War soldiers—and then the dead of all wars after World War I in 1918.
Deeply affected by that war, young teacher Moina Michael added a significant and lasting symbol to Memorial Day–yet few have even heard of her…
When President Woodrow Wilson announced America’s entry into the war in 1917, Ms. Michael vowed to somehow help our soldiers and ensure they’d never be forgotten. Added inspiration came from a poem she happened upon.
“In Flanders Fields,” penned by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae after attending the funeral of a fellow soldier in May of 1915, honored those who’d died on the Flanders Fields battleground and were buried there.
It ends with the lines:
“If ye break faith with those who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
in Flanders Fields.”
And poppies—red ones–did, indeed, grow over the fallen soldiers’ graves…
Thanks to Ms. Michael’s efforts, red poppies quickly became a national emblem of remembrance and support for all veterans, and their sale ultimately raised millions of dollars for veterans, war widows, and orphans. Upon her death on May 10, 1944, veterans made 3,223 poppies and wove them into a blanket they placed on her grave.
To this day, red poppies are given out on both Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Wear one with gratitude and be reminded of Moina Belle Michael and the true meaning of this set-aside day.