Memorial Day is informally known as the first day of the summer vacation season, but formally it has a much deeper meaning that dates back to the American Civil War.
Observed on the last Monday of May each year (but actually occurring on May 30), Memorial Day celebrates the memory and sacrifice of men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It was originally called “Decoration Day” because families and volunteers would show their honor by placing American flags and flowers on graves.
Poppies may be worn on this day in remembrance and as a fundraiser for military organizations, a tradition begun in 1915 by poet Moina Michael (a former UGA professor). Inspired by poet John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” she wrote:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
On Memorial Day, the American flag is raised to the top of the staff and then lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon. This position is in memory of the more than one million men and women who have given their lives in service. At noon, the flag is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day by active duty military, as a reminder to rise up in memory of their comrades’ sacrifice and continue the fight for liberty and justice.
This Memorial Day, remember those who have given their lives for a greater cause, as well as those who continue to serve for that same cause. Wherever you are today at 3 P.M. local time – at your office, at the beach, or at a national cemetery memorial service – take a moment to give silent thanks for their sacrifice. If you are on vacation, raise a toast to the fallen. Cheers to those who have served by land, air or sea!