Memorial Day is May 27th and commemorates the unofficial start of summer. But let’s not forget the “reason for the season,” so to speak. Memorial Day is a great opportunity for Americans to celebrate the men and women who gave their lives to help preserve the freedoms we enjoy as a country!
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that small private employers provide an average of 7.6 paid holidays per year. A more recent study by Bloomberg BNA reports that 96% of employers offer a paid leave day for the Memorial Day holiday. In fact, Memorial Day is the third most popular paid leave holiday in the United States and tied with Independence Day and Labor Day. Why do so many employers include this holiday in the paid leave schedule? Sometimes associated with the unofficial start of summer, I like to think it’s because we recognize the profound contribution and sacrifice of those who died in service to our country. As we honor these men and women this year, I’d like to share a few interesting things you may not know about Memorial Day.
The origins of Memorial Day have been fiercely debated over the years. According to Richard Gardiner, Ph.D., and Daniel Bellware of the Center for Memorial Day Research at Columbus State University, the mystery “has remained murky and controversial for over a century.” While Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, as the official “birthplace” of the holiday in 1971, cities as far west as Carbondale, Illinois, and as far south as Columbus, Georgia, make similar claims.
Memorial Day originally honored those who fought in the Civil War. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, after World War I, Memorial Day expanded to include those who died in all American wars.
First known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was originally celebrated in April and was “a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.” It is widely believed the date was moved to May because more flowers would be in bloom across the country.
The National Moment of Remembrance Act, signed into law in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, “designates 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance, in honor of the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace.” The Act also “recognizes in law a commemoration begun on Memorial Day in May 1997, when “Taps” was played at 3:00 p.m. on many radio and television stations across the Nation as Americans paused to remember the men and women who have lost their lives in service to our country.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the first large gathering for what is now known as Memorial Day occurred at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., on May 30, 1868. Approximately 5,000 people attended the ceremony, which is about the same number that attend today.
The largest one-day motorcycle event in the country has taken place on Memorial Day for the last 30+ years, Rolling Thunder, is a demonstration ride “that honors the recognition and protection of Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Missing in Action (MIAs). The annual demonstration usually starts at the Pentagon and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”
Whether you participate in solemn parades in your local city, spend the day with family and friends, or visit national cemeteries or memorials, we hope you will pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to honor the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to help preserve the freedoms we enjoy.