Other communities observed their own tributes, but it was Mexican-American and Civil War veteran Gen. John Logan who brought prominence to Memorial Day.
As leader of a group of veteran sailors and soldiers, Logan proclaimed May 30, 1868, as a day to commemorate the sacrifice of Civil War soldiers. Logan proclaimed:
“Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime … let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as scared charges upon the nation’s gratitude.”
Logan led the veterans through town to the cemetery to decorate the graves of soldiers with flags.
Northern state generally observed the tribute on May 30 and the day became known as Memorial Day in 1882. Children read poems and songs were sung as veterans wearing their metals shared their stories and led a procession of those gathered to the cemetery.
Delivering a speech on Memorial Day May 30, 1884, the Associate Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “(I)t is now the moment when by common consent we pause to become conscious of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for the country in return.
“So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith.
“To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching.”
Regarding the fallen who gave their lives for these ideals, Holmes said, “But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead … and on this day when we decorate their graves — the dead come back and live with us.”
Southern states continued to observe a day for their fallen soldiers at a time separate from the northern states. It was after World War I, when tribute incorporated those that fell in that war with those of the Civil War, that remembrance was made by both the North and the South on the same occasion.
In 1971, Congress proclaimed the last Monday of May to be the day when Americans should observe Memorial Day.
In 2000, Congress passed a resolution proclaiming that at 3 p.m. a moment of silence would be observed to remember the fallen.
One tradition is wearing red poppies to remind ourselves and others of the red stained battlefields, stained by the blood of men and women who died to preserve our freedoms.
Originally, Memorial Day served as a grim reminder of a time when we Americans fought a war among ourselves. It became a time to observe the resilience of the American ideal and to remember those who fought and died for those ideals.