Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 31 in 2010). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War), it was expanded after World War I to honor dead Americans from all wars.

By 1865 the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves had become widespread in the North. General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic–the society of Union Army veterans–called for all GAR posts to celebrate a “Decoration Day” on May 30, 1868. There were events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890 every northern state followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women’s Relief Corps, with 100,000 members.

By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been buried in 73 national cemeteries, located mostly in the South, near the battlefields. The most famous are the Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and the Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

The Memorial Day speech became an occasion for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the war–and at first to rehearse the atrocities of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation, one closer to God. People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the Germans and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s the rancor was gone and the speeches praised the brave soldiers both Blue and Gray. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world.

Soldiers reflect on Memorial Day worth

Written by Spc. Shantelle Campbell, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division

TIKRIT – For many Americans, Memorial Day is just another government holiday – a day off from work or school – but for the families and friends of service members who died while serving their country, it’s the day their fallen are honored.

For Capt. Simon Welte, commander of Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan., Memorial Day evokes deep emotion and deserves to be recognized by all Americans for what it represents and who it honors.

“When you sit down and think about where we are and where we came from, a lot of that is due to the veterans who gave their lives to serve this country [and] didn’t get to enjoy those freedoms that they provided for other people,” said the Augusta, Ky., native, who is currently on his second deployment to Iraq. “It is a hugely significant [holiday]; and if you take the time to sit back and think about it, I think you’d be hard-pressed not to find some emotions tied to that [day].”

Welte recalled the time he returned home from his first deployment. He remembered how even with people thanking him on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day for his service and sacrifice, he never really thought of himself as a veteran.

“It never really donned on me that at such a young age, at 24, that I was a veteran and had served my country,” he said. “It’s kind of humbling to think about. It [evokes] a lot of proud feelings and allows you to step back and put a lot of things into perspective.”

Cambridge, Maine, native Sgt. William J. Coyle, an infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4IBCT, is currently on his third deployment and his second deployment to Iraq. He said that Memorial Day is one of the most important holidays because it embodies the sacrifices made by the ones who fought for our country’s freedoms.

“It symbolizes the sacrifices of the people who have gone before me …,” he said.

A Tale of Two Americas On Memorial Day 2010

Fox News – By William Forstchen

So what the hell do these conservatives want out of Obama? And does it matter if Obama throws some leaves on a tomb?

–David Corn

Memorial Day. Those of us old enough to remember might recall a parent or grandparent who referred to it as “Decoration Day.” We might recall as well that “Memorial Day,” was not on the last Monday in May, serving as an endcap for a three day weekend of sales and vacations, but instead was observed on May 30, no matter what day of the week that was.

It started shortly after the Civil War when General Logan, who was part of the forces occupying the South, supposedly observed Southern women laying spring flowers on the graves of both Confederate and Union dead. Logan wrote of it, urged a national day of commemoration and thus “Decoration Day” became a tradition in nearly all states.

After World War One, the fallen of that conflict became part of the memorial services as well.

After World War Two, with hundreds of thousands of new graves to tend, the tradition evolved that “Decoration Day,” would be a day of national commemoration for those who gave “the last full measure of devotion,” and that “Armistice Day,” November 11, would become a day of honoring all veterans who served.

And thus it was until 1971 when Congress, creating three day weekends for government employees, including themselves, reordered Memorial Day to the last Monday of the month.

As a boy growing up in the 1950s I recall Memorial Day in my town as one of solemn dedication. With streets blocked off a procession would weave through the community, visiting the various cemeteries. I marched with the boy scouts, my father with his American Legion post, and at each cemetery prayers would be offered, wreaths laid, followed by a volley salute and taps, which even then made my throat constrict.

We were a single America, united in memory. Yes there was already the blaring of ads on a new thing called television, about Memorial Day sales, and the exodus to the beach by some, but as a shared culture, Memorial Day was a day of memory, recollection and prayer.

We are two Americas today. Presidents have “missed” visiting Arlington before this day but this time, the reasons why and what commentators have said in defense so clearly shows a national divide.

Earlier this week a notice from the White House announced that the first family would “vacation” this weekend in Chicago. The First Lady was quoted as saying that this time the children “decided” where they would spend their mini-vacation.

Vacation? So Memorial Day is a vacation weekend now, even for the first family? Of course,  it was quickly pointed out that the president would visit a military cemetery near Chicago. Of course.

But that is not Arlington. Arlington is the symbolic center of our national memory for those who died in service to our country. It is as well where the Tombs of the Unknown from most of our 20th century wars are located. The ritual of the Unknown Soldier, as symbolic of all the fallen emerged after World War One, when from the torn battlefields of Europe, America and other nations recovered the unidentified remains of one soldier, to thus symbolize the millions whose final resting places are “known but to God.” To honor the Unknown is the symbolic act of honoring all and thus it became a sacred ritual.

Arlington is “the vision place of souls,” and the Tombs of the Unknown, are the focal point of that memory. When a president lays a wreath before those tombs, it is a symbolic act of memory and mourning on behalf of all of us. The laying of a wreath in and of itself is also a tradition that harkens back to biblical times. For a president, it is one of the highest honors and obligations that comes with his office.

Is that too much to ask of our president? Is it too much to ask of a president to set such an example and rather than have a vacation defined by “the kids” that instead, as the first family together they lead the nation in a day of contemplation and prayer?

We are now so clearly two Americas and this conflict about how to observe Memorial Day symbolizes a cultural divide which started in the 1960s and now seems all but unfathomable. That divide was brutally and crudely stated this week by the “progressive” journalist David Corn, editor with “Nation” Magazine, when he wrote in defense of the first family’s decision to treat this weekend at a “vacation”:

So what the hell do these conservatives want out of Obama? And does it matter if Obama throws some leaves on a tomb?

David, I will tell you what we want. We want a president who holds sacred certain beliefs and traditions that are the very essence of what we see as being an “American.” In a world of such political correctness where we are constantly ordered not to offend, we are the people who on this sacred day are offended beyond any ability to express, offended by our president’s actions, offended by your soulless mocking words. . .”throws some leaves on a tomb. . .”

If that is indeed your belief, and the belief of those who are apologists for yet another insult by our president to sacred traditions, there is only one answer. We are a house divided against itself, we have become two Americas with all which that implies and such a divide, in the end, will be resolved one way or the other and come November, of this year and in 2012 we will remember.

Please Pray for Our Military and their Families

Related Links:

Society of the Honor Guard Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

HotAir:  The price of freedom

Federal Review: Obama’s Memorial Day: Honoring the Dead by Playing Basketball

Flopping Aces Memorial Day Weekend Post

The Strata-Sphere: President Obama Is Not Inspiring, Innovative Or A Leader

WaPo: Obama Memorial Day speech rained out

RCP: Obama Rained Out Of Memorial Day Ceremony In IL

TWC: Arlington VA Weather

American Thinker: ABC Bashes Bush on Memorial Day

UPDATED LINK: Barack Obama Ignores D-Day Anniversary – Goes to Theatre Party