Americans will observe Memorial Day on May 30. It may be
best-known as the unofficial beginning of summer, but it has a long
history as a deeply significant occasion to honor those who lost
their lives in our nation’s service.
Americans will observe Memorial Day on May 30. It may be best-known as the unofficial beginning of summer, but it has a long history as a deeply significant occasion to honor those who lost their lives in our nation’s service.
The origin of Memorial Day is rather unclear. It is known that even before the end of the Civil War, organized groups in the South were decorating graves of fallen Confederate soldiers (hence the original name, “Decoration Day”).
In 1868, U.S. General John Logan issued an official order to place flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery on May 30. The practice soon spread to all the northern states.
Waterloo, N.Y., seems to have the honor of being the location of our nation’s first civic Memorial Day celebration. In 1886, the town’s flags were flown at half-staff and villagers marched to local cemeteries to drape in black the graves of soldiers slain in the Civil War. In 1966, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and President Lyndon Johnson visited Waterloo to proclaim it the birthplace of Memorial Day.
The southern states, however, continued to hold observances on different dates until after World War I when the holiday was changed to recognize all who have died fighting for this nation in any war. (Several southern states have an additional day for honoring Confederate war dead.)
Until 1971, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, but the National Holiday Act passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon specified the holiday would fall on the “last Monday in May,” assuring workers a three-day weekend. Some people today feel this date change has led the public to forget the significance of the holiday. In 1999, bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to restore the holiday to its traditional date of observance to regain its solemn spirit, but neither bill passed.
South Valley residents have a number of opportunities to honor our nation’s war dead on May 30:
– Gilroy has a whole day of festivities planned. A Remembrance Ceremony will be held at at 9 a.m. at St. Mary Cemetery (1000 First St.). A traditional Memorial Day parade will follow at 11 a.m., beginning at the corner of Tenth and Monterey streets. A family fun day, including essay-judging, a car show and barbecue will continue until dark at Christmas Hill Park.
Locals can travel a bit farther to take part in other Memorial Day observances:
– The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose will hold two ceremonies. Gate of Heaven Cemetery (22555 Cristo Rey Drive, Los Altos) will hold a Mass celebrated by Bishop Patrick McGrath at 11 a.m., preceded by a veteran’s tribute at 10:40 a.m. At the same time, Calvary Cemetery (2655 Madden Ave., San Jose) will also host a Mass and veteran’s tribute.
Continuing up the Peninsula, San Francisco’s Presidio will hold two events to mark Memorial Day:
– A Main Post Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. with band and honor guard. At noon Park Rangers will offer tours of the National Cemetery. Call (415) 561-5500 for more information.
Even father away, a bit of controversy will be injected into the holiday observance in San Diego.
– Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial will hold its annual Memorial Day program. This serene spot with spectacular view of San Diego and the coastline, features a 29-foot tall concrete cross atop the 822-foot mountain’s summit. More than 2,400 black granite plaques surround the cross, displaying photos, names and stories of American veterans.
However, after a 20-year legal battle, a Federal Appeals Court recently ruled the towering landmark is an “unconstitutional sign of government favoring religion.” The judge’s ruling concluded the memorial is a “predominantly religious symbol.”