What do you think about when you hear “Memorial Day”? Many of us may be thinking about a day off from work, a weekend at the beach, or a family barbecue. While it’s certainly nice to have a day of relaxation, too often we neglect the real reason for this national day of remembrance.

On Memorial Day, we honor men and women who died in military service. This day is reserved for visiting cemeteries and memorials, and taking part in a national moment of remembrance at 3 pm.

The idea for Memorial Day began after the Civil War. Thanks to General John Logan, Decoration Day (its original name) was first recognized on May 30, 1868. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At first, it was only recognized by northern states and many southern states commemorated their dead on different days. In 1971, Memorial Day was officially declared a federal holiday by President Nixon.

Most major cities held parades every Memorial Day, much like on Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day. However, many cities have done away with the parades for financial reasons. This is just one indication of how far we may be slipping from this holiday’s original intentions. Still, there are some heartfelt traditions upheld each year. Since the 1950’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. Then, they patrol the cemetery for 24 hours a day throughout the weekend to ensure each flag remains standing. Also, the Boys and Girl Scouts of America place a candle at each of the soldiers’ grave sites at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye’s Heights.

A recent delivery to the medical center at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in Wilkes-Barre, PA inspired this post. We hope this Memorial Day, you celebrate your loved ones as well as honor those who have fought for our freedom.

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