This Monday, May 31, is Memorial Day, so named because it is the day we remember those who died in war defending the United States. It was once a day observed by introspection and solemnity in communities across the country, and it remains a dignified occasion at America’s military bases here and overseas.
As the nation prepares to observe Memorial Day, though maybe not in the usual way of getting together with family and friends on the beach and witnessing parades in person due to social distancing recommendations, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of things you didn’t know about the holiday (but should), using resources such as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Its founding is credited to John A. Logan, a former Union Army general and advocate for Civil War veterans. He supported a nationwide day of commemoration for those who had died to preserve the Union during the Civil War. Since that time, the day has become an occasion to remember all of those who have fallen during America’s wars. Speaking of those who defended the Union, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1922 to Abraham Lincoln.
The Memorial Day weekend has become the gateway holiday to summer, when people enjoy recreational activities or host barbecues, and are less engaged with the original intention of the holiday. This is a function of a loosening of the connection between American society and the military. A Council on Foreign Relations story in 2018 said the military comprises fewer than 1.3 million people, or less than 0.5% of the U.S. population. Many of the service members live in American’s biggest military cities.
As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between it and the civilian population it protects have become more distant. This has become more apparent as the number of veterans who fought in the Vietnam War and World War II, two of America’s most expensive wars, pass away.
To compile our list of the things you didn’t know about Memorial Day (but should), 24/7 Tempo reviewed information from sources such as the Veterans Affairs website, history.com, americanliterature.com, poets.org, and media sources such as the New York Times and National Public Radio.