Today, Monday, May 28, is the Memorial Day holiday in the USA. It is observed on the last Monday in the month of May, annually. This is the day designated by the U. S. legislature to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives – in the service of their country. This custom originated in 1868 as Decoration Day, as people decorated the graves of those who died in the U. S. Civil War with miniature flags and flowers. As the deceased were often buried hundreds of miles from their homes and families, local residents visited the cemeteries on behalf of families unable to do so.
The change from Decoration Day to Memorial Day occurred in 1882. Memorial Day was initially observed on May 31, annually. On June 28, 1968, the U. S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved five federal holidays from their traditional date to a specified Monday. Memorial Day was one of the five celebrations affected. Since 1969, it takes place on the last Monday in May.
Following the end of World War I in 1918, one hundred years ago this year, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was created in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, to contain the remains of an unknown military service-member killed in that war. The Tomb symbolizes all military casualties of all wars involving the US.
On March 4, 1921, the U. S. Congress authorized the entombment of the remains of a World War I unknown in the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington National Cemetery. The remains of the unknown was selected and transported from France to the Washington, D. C., Navy Yard where it lay in state under the Rotunda of the U. S, Capitol. The remains were entombed at Arlington on Armistice Day (November 11), 1921.
Adjacent to The Pentagon and across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery is the nation’s premier burial site. It is customary for a wreath to be placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the current president. The above image shows then-U. S. President Barack Obama observing a moment of silence after offering the national wreath in 2015. I have no idea if the current person in that position continues the practice. My spouse, Aaron, and I attended this event every year since 2010. For personal reasons, we stopped in 2017.
On Memorial Day, the USA flag is raised to the top of the flagpole and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position. It remains in this position until noon in honor of all the country’s war dead. At the noon hour, local time, the flag is then raised to the full-staff position where it remains for the remainder of the day.
The West Panel of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is inscribed as follows:
Here rests in honored glory
an American soldier, known but to God.
A guard of honor patrols the Tomb constantly 24 hours a day, irregardless of weather. The guard are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.
Happy Memorial Day!