Most Americans know Memorial Day to be a three-day holiday and the “unofficial” kick-off to summer. Often celebrated by family gatherings, barbecues and a sigh of relief that Monday won’t bring a painful commute, Memorial Day for many of those under the age of 40 is often confused with Veterans Day – but the two holidays are distinctly different.
The birth of Memorial Day, depending on which history book one reads and chooses to believe, was started by former slaves on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave found at a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as a sign of their gratitude for fighting for their freedom. After the burial, some 10,000 people, led by a couple thousand black children, held a parade where they marched, sang and celebrated.
What is more known — and certainly what I was taught in my Civil War history classes as part of my minor thesis at the university — was that John Logan, grand Army of the Republic, issued what was called General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a memorial day. He declared it to be “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.”
So, on May 30, 1868 the country, while still small and mostly just the southern states, officially recognized Memorial Day. While originally established to honor those who died in the Civil War, since the 20th century Memorial Day has been extended to honor all Americans who have died while serving.
Veterans Day, birthed from WWI, is to honor and celebrate the service of all U.S. veterans.
This Memorial Day, if you’ve not traditionally attended a ceremony, do so. The experience, whether young or old, is moving and impactful.
For those who reside in Edmonds, plan to attend the Memorial Day Ceremony at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, starting at 11 a.m. Following this ceremony, there will be a dedication of the Veterans Plaza and wreath laying by the Edmonds courthouse (5th/Bell) at 1 p.m.
And after you take in the full meaning of Memorial Day, go celebrate with friends and family. This day will have new meaning to you for years to come…beyond just celebrating three days off.
— By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.