Remembering the Brave and Fallen
By Pamela Moore, student, SUNY Empire State College
May 20, 2016
Memorial Day’s long history begins with Civil War General John Logan, commander in chief of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, who made a decree declaring May 30, 1868, as a day “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating, the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” He chose this particular date since no battles had an anniversary on this day.
In 1873, New York was the first state to officially recognize Decoration Day and, by 1890, all the northern states had as well. The South, however, refused to acknowledge Decoration Day and each state held its own remembrance days. Following World War I, the day expanded to honor those Americans who had perished in all wars, not just the Civil War. Memorial Day continued to be celebrated on May 30 until the National Holiday of Act of 1971, when the federal government changed it to the last Monday in the month of May. Several southern states still have special commemorative days of their own, a few choosing Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birthday.
After World War I, Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, taught a class that included several disabled service members and, through them, she saw their need for financial and occupational support. Inspired by a poem describing the poppies at Flanders Fields, she decided to wear a red silk poppy to honor those who had passed away in the war. Later, she began selling them to friends and co-workers, using the money to help needy service members. Her inspirational efforts spread overseas and, in 1922, the VFW launched its Buddy Poppy program, selling red poppies handmade by disabled and needy veterans. The poppy sale program provides income for the veterans who craft them, provides financial assistance for the maintenance of state and national veterans' rehabilitation/service programs and partially helps to support the VFW National Home for Children. To honor her role in the founding of the National Poppy movement, the US Post Office designed a red 3 cent stamp in 1948 with the image of Michael, whom had affectionately become known as the “Poppy Lady.”
As Pierre Claeyssens wrote, “To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst that can happen… to be forgotten is the worst.” For several years, efforts have been underway to petition Congress to restore Memorial Day to its original date of May 30. Several veterans organizations cite the 1971 National Holiday Act date change as part of the reason why the day’s reverence has diminished. According to the VFW, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.” (http://www.usmemorialday.org)
ESC has a dedicated Office of Veterans and Military Education with knowledgeable staff that can help veterans, military members and their eligible family members navigate the many benefits, options and programs that are available to them.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Moore.