Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

 Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, 1945
 Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, 1945

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for all those who have died in service for the United States of America. There are many stories about its actual origins, with over two dozen cities and towns claiming to be the birthplace of the Memorial Day celebrations.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No.11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

The image above is one of the most indelible images of World War II as well as a Pulitzer winner, this photo of U.S. Marines raising their flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima is widely used as a tribute to American heroism. Of the six men in the shot, three died in the battle. The image was used to create the USMC War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.