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A History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day has a rich history of traditions and is a good time to remember the soldiers who have given the ultimate price for our freedom.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 559 (approx.)
Labels: Military Record 
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Memorial Day, also known as and originally referred to as Decoration Day, dates back to the time right after the Civil War. General John Logan, of the Grand Army of the Republic, was the first to proclaim a Memorial Day in 1868, and it was first celebrated on 30 May 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. Initially, the South refused to celebrate the holiday and, instead, honored their dead on a different day. Eventually, after World War I, the holiday became a time to honor all war dead, not just those who had died during the Civil War.

One tradition that came out of Memorial Day was the wearing of red poppies. The wearing of poppies derived from a poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrea of the Canadian Army. He was a military doctor who was inspired to write the poem after watching the pain and death that comes from war and, specifically the death of a young friend.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the Poppies blow

Between the crosses row by row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


An American woman, Moina Michael wrote a response to Lt. Col. McCrea's poem. Part of her poem reads:

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.

She followed up her poetic response by wearing a red poppy and she began selling them to her friends and donating the proceeds to soldiers in need. This tradition spread to other countries, and in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) was the first veteran's organization to sell red poppies nationwide. Mrs. Michael was eventually honored for her role in starting this Memorial Day tradition with a U.S. postage stamp with her likeness on it. The 3 cent stamp with her likeness can be seen at For more information about the VFW and the red poppies, see the VFW's web site at

This week I was given the opportunity to go inside a B-17 that had been flown during World War II. Climbing inside and hearing about the experience of the plane's crew members gave me such a deeper respect for those who have fought for us, so that we could live in peace and freedom. Taking one day a year and honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice seems like such a little thing, but what a huge impact it has on those who are now gone and those who are left.

Memorial Day celebrations can be found in almost all communities. A World War II museum near us is having a flower drop in honor of Memorial Day, while the local cemeteries are having events that honor fallen soldiers from all wars. Memorial Day is a great time to tell the stories of the soldiers in your family, whether killed in battle or not, and remind our family members, both young and old of the sacrifices that have been made for us.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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