Memorial Day started in 1868 as a day dedicated to honoring the dead of the Civil War. Initially called Decoration Day, it was celebrated in part by placing flowers on the soliders’ graves which could be found throughout the country.
The greatest tribute to the fallen of the Civil War and one of the greatest speeches in American history is the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln. This two minute speech was given on November 19, 1863 to dedicate Soliders’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.
We all know the opening line “four score and seven years ago” and many of us memorized the speech in school, but with each re-reading it’s hard not to be drawn to Lincoln’s tribute to soldiers who died not just for the Union, but for the preservation of freedom:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The story many of us grew up with, that Lincoln wrote the speech on the back of an envelope on the train to Gettysburg, isn’t true. However, he didn’t have much time because he was only invited to the ceremony 17 days before it occurred. The invitation specifically stated that the orator was Edward Everett. Lincoln’s limited role was to only “formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.” In modern terms, the President of the Untied States was the ribbon cutter. What Lincoln said to memorialize the 7,500 dead on the field demonstrates why he was a wonderful President.
Expansion of Memorial Day After World War I
Following the end of WWI, Memorial Day was expanded to include the American dead from any war or military action. Veterans frequently sell poppies to raise money before Memorial Day. Poppies grew into a Memorial Day symbol after the popularity of Lt. John McCrae’s seminal World War I poem, ”In Flanders Fields.” Lt. McCrae wrote the poem the day after watching his friend, Alexis Helmer, die Read the rest of this entry »