Memorial Day is a federal holiday and a day when most Americans take a day off from work to enjoy time with family and friends. It is the unofficial start of summer for many of us and a time for picnics, barbecues, fireworks and perhaps a quick trip to the beach or mountains.
by dbking via wikimedia commons
With all the fun of Memorial Day, we sometimes forget what it is all about. In 1868 the Grand Army of the Republic, which was an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day to honor the war dead of the Civil War by placing flowers on the graves.
Decoration Day started changing to Memorial Day around 1882, but after World War II the designation Memorial Day became more common. Memorial Day became the official name by federal law in 1967.
Memorial Day is now celebrated on the last Monday in May as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. This law designated four holidays including Memorial Day as holidays to be celebrated on a Monday creating a three-day weekend around these holidays.
I was thinking about ways to celebrate Memorial Day that would include honoring the men and women who have given their all for our freedom. I decided spending a day in Washington, D.C. and visiting the memorials there would be a perfect day.
My first stop would be the World War II Memorial, which opened in April 2004 and was dedicated Memorial Day weekend by President George W. Bush. The monument sits on the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. One reason for making this my first stop is the fact that my father and four of my uncles were veterans of World War II.
Vietnam_Veterans_Memorial_by Mariordo via wikimedia commons
Another stop I will want to make is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There are three parts to this memorial, the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The memorial occupies 3 acres and is close by the Lincoln Memorial. I went to high school with young men who served in Vietnam and died in Vietnam. I also worked for the company that did the typesetting for the names engraved on the wall.
Other memorials to our veterans include the Navy Memorial, the Air Force Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. There is also a memorial for the Pentagon. You could spend your Memorial Day in the city of Washington visiting these memorials and leave with a new respect for our soldiers who lost their lives defending our freedom.
The one thing you would really want to do on your Memorial Day trip to Washington, D.C. is visit Arlington Cemetery. At the entrance to Arlington Cemetery you will find the Iwo Jima Memorial. This is the famous memorial depicting the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima Island by six Marines. It is also known as the United States Marine Corps Memorial and is one of the more iconic sculptures depicting World War II.
Arlington was the home of Robert E. Lee. In 1864 the government of the United States took the property to be used as a burial site for fallen soldiers. The cemetery takes up 612 acres and is the burial site of 240,000 service members and their dependents. It is the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy, seven Supreme Court Justices and other non-military persons who qualify for burial here.
You will want to watch the changing of the guard at the Tombs of the Unknowns. Members of the United States Third Infantry maintain a 24 hour guard marching 21 steps then pausing before turning and marching 21 steps. At each turn the soldier will switch the rifle to his other shoulder before he begins moving again.
Tomb_of_the_Unknowns_Guard by public domain via wikimedia
In 1932 The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was designated to honor the unknown dead from World War One. Tombs of Unknowns from World War II and the Korean War were added in 1958 and in 1984 a tomb was added for the Unknown of the Vietnam War. The Unknown Soldier from Vietnam was identified in 1998, and Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie was returned home to St. Louis where he was buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The Vietnam Tomb now reads “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”
So as you enjoy your Memorial Day Holiday, I hope you will take a few moments to remember the reason for the holiday. Have a great day.