Let's try something a little different this year. Rather than offering a straight historical overview of Memorial Day, I've also prepared a short quiz for you. Test your knowledge about this important day in our country's history by answering the following questions.
1) When is Memorial Day?
2) What year was Memorial Day officially designated a federal holiday?
3) What ceremony did retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan plan?
4) When was the name changed to Memorial Day?
5) Why do we celebrate Memorial Day?
6) Who proclaimed Waterloo the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966?
7) Name the nation's largest national cemetery?
8) Who is buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
9) One of the soldiers buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was identified and removed in 1998. In which war did he serve?
10) Who started the custom of wearing red poppies and when?
In 1866, the United States was recovering from a devastating Civil War between the North and the South. Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., heard gruesome stories about the war and concluded the shops in town should close for one day to honor the soldiers who were killed and buried in the Waterloo cemetery.
Early morning on May 5, townspeople gathered at the cemetery and placed flowers, wreaths and crosses on the graves of the Northern soldiers. Retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan planned a ceremony for soldiers who survived the war, and led them through town to the cemetery to honor their fallen comrades by placing flags on the graves. The townspeople called this solemn commemorative memorial Decoration Day.
The two ceremonies combined in 1868; northern states commemorated the day on May 30; southern states commemorated their war dead on different days. In 1882, the name changed to Memorial Day, honoring all soldiers who'd died in war.
The custom of wearing poppies began in 1915 when Moina Michael read "In Flanders Fields." She was inspired by this poem, and wrote one of her own suggesting that the poppies growing in Flanders Fields represented the eternal "blood of heroes" shed for freedom.
President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Waterloo the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, exactly 100 years after the first commemoration. However, Congress didn't pass the Uniform Holidays Bill until 1968 that set the holiday as the last Monday in May. Finally, in 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the last Monday in May to pay respect to those who died in wars or in the service of their country.
At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the nation's largest national cemetery, in the pre-dawn hours on the Friday morning before Memorial Day, soldiers of the Third U.S. Infantry called "The Old Guard" walk along the rows of headstones. Each soldier stops at a headstone, selects one of the flags he is carrying and pushes it into the ground. Soldiers place flags on the more than 200,000 graves of soldiers who served in the wars or who died in them.
An equal honor is guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Three soldiers are buried in this location: the unknown soldiers of the two World Wars and the Korean conflict. In 1998, DNA testing identified the remains of the Vietnam War veteran as a U.S. Air Force First Lieutenant. His remains were returned to his family and buried in St. Louis, Mo.
Changing of the guard ceremonies occur year-round every hour on the hour Oct. 1 to March 31. From April 1 through Sept. 30, another change is added on the half hour because cemetery closing time moves from 5 to 7 p.m. On another hill of Arlington Cemetery is a mass grave of unidentified soldiers from the Civil War.
On Memorial Day, the President or Vice President gives a speech, lays a wreath on the tomb, and observes a 21-gun salute.
Without the sacrifices these heroes made we might not be celebrating Memorial Day. Think about that for a moment. To some, the day merely indicates the beginning of summer with a three-day weekend and often a mini vacation. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, but don't forget the real meaning of it.
1) Last Monday in May
3) Decoration Day
5) To pay respect to those who have died in wars or in service of their country
6) President Lyndon Johnson
7) Arlington National Cemetery
8) Three soldiers
9) Vietnam War
10) Moina Michael in 1915