SAN LUIS VALLEY — Observance of Memorial Day has changed once again due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Formerly Decoration Day in the United States, this holiday(last Monday in May) honors those who have died in the nation’s wars. It originated during the American Civil War when citizens placed flowers on the graves of those who had been killed in battle. Changes in the San Luis Valley include elimination of some old ceremonial traditions, but the veterans have held fast, with Memorial Ceremonies at 10 a.m. Monday, May 31, beginning at the American Legion plot in Alamosa Cemetery, then moving to the VFW plot and finally to the Spanish Cemetery on Coop Road.
Veterans will begin placing flags on all veteran graves at 10 o’clock on Saturday, May 29 and the public is cordially invited to join them and make sure all veterans receive the recognition they deserve. For more info, call Monte Collins, American Legion Commander, at 589-4142.
After World War I, as the day came to be observed in honor of those who had died in all U.S. wars, its name was changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. Memorial Day was witnessed on May 30 from 1868 until 1970 but is now observed annually on the last Monday in May. It honors military personnel who died in the service of their country. More specifically, it honors those who died in battle or as a result of wounds they sustained during battle.
Veterans Day, which is observed on Nov. 11 every year, honors everyone who has served in the army regardless of whether they served during wartime or not.
Some people also wonder how Sept. 11, Patriot Day falls into this confusing mix. It commemorates the civilians that died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A number of Southern states also observe a separate day to honor the Confederate dead.
Memorial Day is observed with the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknownsin Arlington National Cemeteryin Arlington, Virginia, as well as by religious services, parades, and speeches nationwide. Flags, insignia and flowers are placed on the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.
The day has also come to signal the beginning of summer in the United States.
More than a half dozen places have claimed to be the birthplace of the holiday. In October 1864, for instance, three women in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, are said to have decorated the graves of loved ones who died during the Civil War; they then returned in July 1865 accompanied by many of their fellow citizens for a more general commemoration. A large observance, primarily involving African Americans, took place in May 1865 in Charleston, S.C. Columbus, Miss., held a formal observance for both Union and Confederate dead in 1866. By congressional proclamation in 1966, Waterloo, N.Y., was cited as the birthplace, also in 1866, of the observance. In 1868 John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, promoted a national holiday on May 30 “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.”
So, where did Memorial Day come from? Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began with an idea from General John Logan, as a way to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The first celebration on May 30, 1868, was held at Arlington National Cemeterywith a crowd of 5,000 people decorating the graves of over 20,000 military personnel with flowers. Various Washington officials, including General Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home, among others, made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers, and singing hymns. Many also came prepared with a picnic lunch. The observance has since been expanded to remember the deceased soldiers of any and all wars.
It wasn’t until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to honor all veterans who died in any American war. In 1971, Decoration Day became officially known as Memorial Day and Congress passed an act declaring it a national holiday. That same year, Memorial Day was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May by President Lyndon B. Johnson. “This will…enable families who live some distance apart to spend more time together,” President Johnson noted in his official statement regarding what is now known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
New York was the first state to declare Memorial Day an official holiday followed by other northern states, but the southern states had their own designated day to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. The observances remained separate until the completion of World War I when Memorial Day was changed to honoring the fallen Americans who fought in any war. In 1971, the date of the holiday was officially changed to the last Monday in May per the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This act also moved other holidays such as President’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day to consistently be on Mondays. Some southern states continue to honor the Confederate dead: Jan. 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia; May 10 in North and South Carolina; and June 3 in Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.