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Memorial Day is More Than a 3-Day Weekend

Some say the three-day weekend holiday has undermined the meaning of Memorial Day, and that it should be moved back to its original date of May 30.

It’s Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start to summer. 

But it is also a time to remember those who gave their lives in all American wars. Because of their dedication, we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

My father-in-law recently passed away. He was a World War II veteran, receiving full military honors at his funeral. He was one of those dedicated soldiers, and will be remembered forever.

Cemeteries, which house these soldiers, including those in Upper Milford Township and Macungie, have fresh, new flags on the graves of their veterans. 

But, are you aware of the history associated with Memorial Day? 

It began as a ritual of remembrance during the Civil War. By 1865, decorating soldiers' graves had become widespread in the northern states.

The first known observance of Memorial Day was held May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York.

Two years later, May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation, in his General Order No. 11.  It stated that “Decoration Day” should be observed nationwide to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who died while in military service. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery; that date being chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle. 

According to the American Legion, church bells also tolled 13 times on this day—once for each of the 13 original colonies.  Some churches continue this practice today. 

“Decoration Day” gradually became known as “Memorial Day” in 1882, becoming more common following World War II. By this time, it became a day to remember all those who have served, and currently serve, in the military, in addition to those who died during service to our country. In 1967, the name was officially changed to Memorial Day.

On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving Memorial Day to the last Monday in May, in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. It has now become a day off from work, commonly used for picnicking, shopping or working around the house. 

I must admit … sometimes I, too, get caught up with the picnic held at the home of my son and daughter-in-law, forgetting the reason for this important holiday.

In 2002, during their annual Memorial Day address, the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated:  “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”

To help remind us of the meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed in December 2000. This resolution asks that at 3 p.m., local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’."

This is a step in the right direction, but we need to get back to the original date of May 30. 

Since 1987, Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye, himself a World War II veteran, has repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional date. In 1999, Senator Inouye introduced bill S 189 to the Senate, which proposes to restore the day of observance of Memorial Day to May 30th. He re-introduced it in 2003, 2005 and again in 2007.  Each time, the bill is read twice and then referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, where no further action is taken.

To date, there have been no further developments on the bill. Please write your Representative and your Senators, urging them to support this.

This year, Memorial Day coincidentally will be held on May 30. Remember what was sacrificed for your freedom.

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