Memorial Day

By Cheryl Rings

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and although there are many conflicting stories on it’s beginnings, most of them agree that it began as a day set aside to honor the soldiers who had fallen in service during the civil war.  Dates and specific groups of soldiers are what separates many of the stories.

Washington Race Course graves now behind the race course stands near the intersection of Tenth Ave. and Mary Murray Drive.

One of those stories comes from Charleston, South Carolina.  The event was held by former slaves at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, SC, where there was a Confederate prison camp and mass grave for Union soldiers. In only ten days, the people built a fence around the graveyard so that they could call it a Union graveyard. On May 1, 1865, nearly ten thousand people gathered at the graveyard for a ceremony that included singing, picnics, and sermons. The Charleston paper declared it Decoration Day.

Memorial Day became official on May 5th in 1868 when it was proclaimed by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.  It was first observed on May 30th of that year and flags were placed on Union and Confederate soldiers graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

New York State recognized it in 1873 and the rest of the northern states were celebrating it by 1890.

It wasn’t until after WWI that the southern states started recognizing Memorial Day.  It was then that the day was used to recognize American’s who died fighting in any war, not just the Civil War.

Today Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May ensuring a 3 day weekend for everyone getting Federal holidays.  On this day soldiers, boy scouts and others will place American flags at the graves of soldiers across the country.  It is also a day to hold parades and memorial services and spend time with loved ones.

Observance of Memorial Day waxes and wanes with the patriotism felt in current American culture.  Events such as the 9/11 attacks on American soil will boost patriotism and seem to unify the country which also brings more awareness to our fallen heroes. During times of plenty and relative peace Memorial Day celebrations will be smaller and many veteran graves will go without American flags as most people will be enjoying a day at the pool or picnicking.

On Memorial Day the United States Flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon.  At noon the flag is raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The flag at half staff shows that the country mourns those who were killed.  When the flag is raised to full staff it is in celebration of our American heroes still serving.

Do you want to do more this Memorial Day?

flags are placed in front of graves to honor fallen soldiers who will be remembered on Memorial Day May 31, 2004.
A soldier places flags on graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo from
  1. Contact your local VFW or American Legion to see if they need volunteers to help with their services or if there are cemeteries in your community where you can help distribute American Flags to the veterans graves.
  2. Collect American flags for the Stars For Our Troops program and use the stars to thank soldiers and veterans in your life.
  3. Teach your kids what Memorial Day means and what the American flag stands for.
  4. Attend a parade.  Be sure to face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove your hat with your right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart when the American flag passes by.



  1. Ralph Hodgman

    We visited a small cemetery in the back woods in northern Florida. One union soldier had a US flag at his headstone. Three confederate headstones did not. They were the only civil war headstones. Should confederate headstones also have US flags?

    • There aren’t specific rules that cover flags at all cemeteries. Since it’s left to the association that governs the cemetery, it is at their discretion. It’s also possible that the association didn’t have anything to do with it. A family member or community member may have made the decision to add flags to certain graves and not others.


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