While we often think of wars fought overseas when we think of Memorial Day, its origins were right here at home. A century and a half ago, it was known as Decoration Day, and it was done to honor the lives of those who had died during America’s bloody struggle with itself during the Civil War.
The graves of those soldiers were decorated with wreaths, flowers, and flags — much like we do today. It would have been quite the sight at that first observance on May 30, 1868, with 5,000 people decorating the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Over the years, it evolved into the a day in which we honor all those who paid the ultimate price while taking up arms under the banner of the red, white, and blue. And the ritual looks surprisingly similar to how it did back then.
Sadly, due to the pandemic, there is no large gathering at Arlington National Cemetery this year. But it is comforting to know that even now, when the entire nation seems turned on its head, we are still taking time to remember those who fought for freedom.
Happy Memorial Day from us at the Association of the United States Navy. No matter where you are, let us all quietly reflect on what this day means for the United States of America … and resolve to come together as one once again next year.
MAIN PHOTO: CAMBRIDGE, England (May 27, 2019) Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, second from right, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Robert Wood Johnson, right, stand during a moment of silence at a Memorial Day ceremony at Cambridge American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England, May 27, 2019. CNE-CNA/C6F, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Nelson/Released)