As we look at the ceremonies going on for the Memorial Day weekend, the controversy continues about whether such a weekend should exist, or if Memorial Day should be commemorated only on May 30th each year.
No one is debating the idea of having a national day of remembrance to honor those who’ve fallen serving their country. But to many people, Memorial Day is the symbol of summer’s start, or a chance to get a good bargain on a car. What’s lost is its original meaning to many people.
On May 5, 1868, the organization of Union army veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
The GAR said Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 because the timing would permit flowers to be in bloom all over the country.
Some local areas observed similar ceremonies starting in 1866. By the start of the 20th century, ceremonies were being held on May 30 around the country. And after World War I, the holiday was expanded to honor all American war fatalities.
The proponents of the day’s original meaning point to the fact it should always be on May 30, no matter the day of the week, as a way for more people to recall why people made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
The Uniform Holidays Bill of 1968 moved the holiday to the last Monday in May. Originally, Veterans Day also was in the list of government holidays slated to always be on a Monday, but it was moved back to its original day of November 11 in 1978.
For years, efforts to do so by the VFW, the American Legion, and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii haven’t succeeded. Inouye, who died in 2012 at the age of 88, wasn’t just a senior member of Congress. He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as a medical volunteer. He later enlisted in the Army and lost an arm serving his country while in Italy.
Inouye had often introduced bills to make Memorial Day a permanent holiday on May 30, most recently in January 2012. The Senate Judiciary Committee usually tabled the bill so it couldn’t reach a full debate in the Senate.
The next year that Memorial Day is scheduled to fall on May 30 is 2016.
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