A Brief History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the day where Americans honor those members of the military who have fallen in service and defense of our great nation. Many well-meaning but uninformed people use this day as a day to thank veterans and active service members. This can be viewed as insensitive to the men and women whose brothers and sisters paid the ultimate price preserving the freedom of this nation. Please be mindful that Memorial Day is in honor of our fallen, Armed Forces day is in honor of our active military members, and Veteran’s Day is in honor of our veterans of all branches of the military.

Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day. The first recognized observance of this day was in 1868 following the Civil War. The practice of decorating graves of fallen Union soldiers on this day was initiated by the Grand Army of the Republic based in Decatur, Illinois. This practice became commonplace with people wishing to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers as years passed. Those events were held on different days to give unique honors to those fallen men on each side. They were later merged into one day. Memorial Day was declared a Federal Holiday in 1967. Then, on June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This moved Memorial Day and three other Federal holidays to be observed on Monday, in this case, the last Monday in May.

You may notice a change in flag etiquette during the observance of Memorial Day. The change is symbolic in nature. On Memorial Day, the flag is to be flown at half-staff until noon. This is to remember the men and women who gave their lives in service. The flag is raised to full staff for the remainder of the day. The memory of the honored dead is raised by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all. Remember when raising to half-staff, raise the flag briskly to the top and lower it ceremoniously halfway down. No flag should fly higher than the American flag. At 1500, it is encouraged for all Americans to stop and have a moment of silence and reflection for our fallen heroes.

Many veterans and service members take this day to reflect and remember their fallen battle buddies. This observance is made in the form of parades and other events across the country. People lay wreaths, lay flowers, and plant flags at the gravesites of our honored dead. If you would like to become part of this tradition, you can contact your local cemetery. They will likely have further information.

There are also many out there that do not understand the significance of this day of remembrance. It can be a very difficult day for many who lost friends under extreme circumstances. The day can trigger some veterans. Be on the lookout for signs of depression, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt especially on this day.

This day often gets lost in the civilian populace. Some are all too happy to fire up the grill for the first time, open the pool, visit a vacation destination for the three-day weekend, or enjoy a paid day off. It is well known as “the unofficial kickoff to summer.” That should not take away from the reason it was made a Federal holiday. By all means, if you are able, enjoy yourselves. Just please, take a moment to silently thank our brothers and sisters who never made it home defending our freedom.

My respect and admiration goes out to all those who have lost a loved one in the defense of this nation. To my brothers and sisters in Valhalla who made the ultimate sacrifice, I will never forget. We will continue the fight in your honor until we meet again. On behalf of a grateful nation, we thank you.


About Jonathan Hatley

Jonathan Hatley is a native of North Carolina. He enrolled in the United States Air Force Academy out of high school and was honorably discharged in 1999. He returned to North Carolina where he pursued a career in public service. He has also worked as an administrative assistant and in the parks and recreation field. Jonathan received an Associate in Arts degree in general studies with a concentration in business administration from Rockingham Community College. He has received training in interpersonal communication skills, suicide awareness, and suicide prevention through various continuing education courses. Jonathan maintains many close, personal relationships with veterans. He has lost one close friend that was a veteran to suicide and was acquainted with several others who also lost their battle. He intends to educate veterans and their families to raise awareness of this epidemic and to give them the tools to fight their demons rather than succumb to them.

Check in!