On 5 May 1868 General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11 proclaimed “The 30th of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
After World War I ended in 1918, Decoration Day now remembered soldiers who died in all United States military conflicts. Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day after World War II. The day became a Federal holiday in 1971. Instead of thinking about Memorial Day kicking off the beginning of Summer picnics, please take the time to think of those soldiers who died protecting the freedoms that we all enjoy today.