How Decoration Day Became Memorial Day

Pamela Marks, director of the Anderson Public Library, sent in this article about how Memorial Day was once called Decoration Day, where families decorated the graves of the brave soldiers who died in battle:

Does anyone else remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day? Yesterday, as I was driving past the Healing Field on Broadway, a childhood memory came back to me as clear as crystal.

Every year, on what my mother called Decoration Day, she and I would drive out to a church graveyard way out in the county where I grew up. There, we would lay fresh flowers on the grave of my grandfather’s brother, Rudy.  Rudy was only 19 years old when he died in Europe during World War I. Over the years, the fresh flowers that annually adorned Uncle Rudy’s grave evolved into offerings of colorful plastic blooms. The artificial flowers would last longer, my mother explained, as she fussed with the wire-stemmed arrangements.

That memory got me wondering about the history of Decoration Day. So, I went online and found some interesting information related to that holiday on the website for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Decoration Day was created by an organization of Union veterans about three years after the Civil War ended. Decoration Day, as the name implied, was a day set aside to decorate the graves of those who had been killed while serving in that war.

Decoration Day was to be observed in the spring because it was believed that by late May, an abundance of spring flowers would be available to provide ample floral tributes for the fallen soldiers.  After World War I, more and more communities began to participate as observances expanded to honor all soldiers who had died in American Wars. In 1971, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day when Congress declared it a national holiday.

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