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Origins of Memorial Day

Jun 15, 2023 10:15AM ● By Verlene Johnson

When the last Monday of May rolls around families tend to gather together for BBQ’s and picnics to kick-off summer. It also means that the end of the school year is near; and most people get a three-day weekend. But most importantly headstones at cemeteries are adorned with colorful flowers.

Many places across America claim they are the originators of Memorial Day. The most likely origin comes from General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic. According to, in May of 1863, he issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. Logan dubbed it as Decoration Day. He encouraged Americans to lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

For more than 50 years Decoration Day only commemorated those who were killed in the Civil War. Once the U.S. entered World War I, it was expanded to include those killed in all American wars. For over 100 years Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30 until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 caused the holiday to be moved to the last Monday in May. 

Veteran’s groups were concerned that Americans would associate the holiday with the first long weekend of the summer instead of the honoring those who had died in war. In 1971 President Lydon B. Johnson changed Decoration Day to Memorial Day, declaring it a federal holiday.  

Memorial Day has evolved over the 150 years since its beginning. It was often still referred to as Decoration Day by those generations born before the name change. Over the years it has become a day to honor all those who have died instead of just those who died in wars. While it has become customary to place flowers on all headstones, you can find crosses and flags placed on the headstones of all the U.S. Veterans. 

While most people mark Memorial Day as a three-day week and the start of summer, Veterans of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars will be paying honors to our deceased veterans at the local cemeteries. They would like to invite anyone interested to attend on May 29. The schedule is as follows: 

8:00 a.m. at the South Morgan Cemetery

8:30 a.m. at the North Morgan Cemetery

9:00 a.m. at the Milton Cemetery 

10:30 a.m. at the Veteran's Memorial at the courthouse including a fly over

12:00 p.m. at the Mountain Green Cemetery

Following is a message from the Veterans of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars; “After World War I, the poppy flourished in Europe. Scientists attributed the growth to soils in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. From the dirt and mud grew a beautiful red poppy. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle following the publication of the wartime poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D. while serving on the front lines.

On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion family to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of The American Legion.

Poppy Day is conducted each year to raise funds for the VFW and American Legion charitable programs on behalf of the needy and disabled veterans, and the surviving family members of deceased veterans. This year proceeds will also provide scholarships for middle school and high school students. This will be held on Saturday, May 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Ridley’s, 7-1,1 Tractor Supply and Hind’s Quick Stop. λ

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