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Contributed by Jack Kopstein
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. It is a day to honor those who died defending their nation.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and originated in the aftermath of the 1861–65 Civil War, during which more American soldiers died than in any other war before or since. After the Civil War, grieving citizens around the nation began holding memorial ceremonies, decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers with flags and tributes. Waterloo, New York, is officially considered the "birthplace" of Memorial Day because it was the first to make the practice of honoring the Civil War dead a citywide event when it held its first Decoration Day in 1866.
General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the veterans' group the Grand Army of the Republic, made a formal proclamation designating May 30, 1868, as a day of remembrance of the nation's war dead. The holiday was originally intended to honor the Civil War dead. After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to honor those killed in all of the nation's wars, and after World War II it became known as Memorial Day.
In 1971, Congress designated the last Monday in May as the national Memorial Day holiday. It has become a day on which the dead of all wars, and the dead generally, are remembered in special programs held in cemeteries, churches, and other public meeting places.
The traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. On Dec. 28, 2000, the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance was established to promote the spirit of unity and remembrance through a minute-long observance. Congress wanted to bring the country together in an act of national unity, ensure that the nation remembers the sacrifices of America's fallen, and to put 'memorial' back into Memorial Day.
The commission urges Americans worldwide to observe the National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day at 3:00 p.m. local time (duration: one minute). The 3:00 p.m. local time was chosen because it is the time when many Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday. Americans may observe a Moment of Remembrance by pausing for a moment of silence or listening to "Taps." The commission also urges Americans to perform its Memorial Day anthem, "On This Day," which was composed by award-winning composer Charles Strouse.
The Moment does not replace the traditional Memorial Day observances. It is intended to a be a unifying act of remembrance for Americans of all ages. By participating in the Moment Americans can help reclaim Memorial Day for the noble and sacred reason for which it was intended—to honor those who died in service to our Nation.
Many Americans confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime.
Music has always played an import part of the Memorial day tributes and the Public Broadcasting System each year salute Veterans across America with a rousing program from Washington DC featuring the National Symphony orchestra and several musicians from the American service bands. Many of the songs and marches may be heard on Altissimo! recordings.
Other popular ways to celebrate Memorial Day include visiting your local veteran's cemetery to lay flowers on a grave, or to visit a veterans hospital or VA association and talk to the veterans there. The tradition of wearing poppies in honor of America's war dead takes its origin from the poem "In Flanders Fields," written in 1915 by John McCrae. There is also a musical version of this poem arranged for band by Jack Kopstein.
In Flanders Fields
written in 1915 by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Flanders, in north-west Belgium, was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the World War I. One of the few things said to have survived the bloodshed was the poppy. John McCrea, a Canadian doctor serving on the battlefield, wrote this poem after treating the battle wounded and burying the dead.
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