As many of us take a day off from work, enjoy a family picnic, watch a car race or do something else relaxing, it’s important to remember the purpose of Memorial Day: to honor the men and women of our armed forces who died serving our country.
“Decoration Day,” as it was first officially known in 1868, was set aside to decorate with flowers the graves of the Civil War fallen. Over 620,000 service members died during the four-year battle, more Americans than in any other war. Following World War I, the day became one to pay tribute to those who died in all wars.
The red crepe paper poppies that appear for sale around Memorial Day and Veterans Day are another tribute to those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. During World War I, a Canadian surgeon serving in Belgium noticed bright red poppies appearing across a blood-stained battlefield. He wrote a poem, In Flanders Fields, which gave voice to those who had sacrificed their lives and were buried beneath the flowers.
The poem appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal. Soon after, a campaign to make the flower a sign of remembrance began. Today, the American Legion Auxiliary raises more than $5.5 million each year through the sale of poppies. All donations support veterans, the military and their families.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed The National Moment of Remembrance Act. It asks the nation for a moment of silence and unity on Memorial Day, beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time, to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice as part of our armed services.
So this weekend, enjoy time with your family and friends. Put a U.S. flag or flowers on the grave of a service member. Buy a crepe paper poppy and donate generously. And join with your fellow Americans in a moment of silence and thanks on Memorial Day.