Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. It is believed that this date was chosen because then the flowers are blooming all over America.
The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I. It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
There are several activities and symbols traditionally associated with Memorial Day. The long-established association of Memorial Day with the red poppy flower, for instance, dates back to the 1915 poem “In Flanders Field,” written by World War I Canadian Col. John McCrae. The poem mourns the many soldiers who died during the Flanders campaigns, and, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “presented a striking image of the bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses.
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
In the 1920s, the red poppy symbol gave way to Poppy Day, a charitable initiative in which artificial poppies were sold to help those affected by the war. In 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the United States (VFW) adopted the poppy as its official memorial flower. According to the VFW Web site, the VFW began their own production of artificial poppies by hiring “disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work” to make the poppies. By 1923, the program became known as the “Buddy Poppy” program. It has been active for more than 75 years and still distributes poppies through veteran organizations across the U.S. Buddy Poppy proceeds have amounted to millions of dollars for the support of orphans, war veterans and their widows.
Have a wonderful, safe Memorial Day weekend to all and a special thanks to my brother Ray for his service to this great country!