The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American Wars, and not just the Civil War.
Although most if not all states celebrated Memorial Day, it didn’t become a national holiday until 1971. The same act of Congress that made it a national holiday also made it the last Monday in May instead of May 30.Many Southern states also have a holiday for honoring the Confederate dead other than Memorial Day. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.
With Memorial Day now being the last Monday in May, it seems to be looked at more as the start of summer and a three day weekend instead of what it was supposed to be for; honoring the dead. An old friend of mine has three sons who’ve served in Iraq or Afghanistan; his oldest son, who was wounded in Iraq, puts it better than I ever could:
“For most people I know, Memorial Day weekend holds no more significance than just an extra day off to party. If that’s you, I don’t hold it against you because I know that unless you’ve been to war & lost friends in a combat zone, you can’t understand.”
We can do better than this; we can do our best to understand. We can take the time to reflect on what price those brave men and women paid for our benefit.