Memorial Day began as an unofficial day of remembrance following the Civil War and may have started with people in various communities, especially Southern, putting flowers on the graves of both the Confederate and Union soldiers. In 1866 the Union soldiers organization named the observance Decoration Day, and a big ceremony was held at the new Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
World War I brought a couple changes. One was the decoration of graves of U.S. soldiers killed in any combat, not just the Civil War. The second change came about when Moina Michael started wearing a poppy in response to the famous poem, “In Flanders Field.” Now the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) runs the Buddy Poppy Program to help support poor and/or disabled veterans and veterans’ widows and orphaned children.
In 1971, Decoration Day became a federal holiday, was renamed Memorial Day, and placed on the last Monday of May. Previously, it had been celebrated on May 30.
Many members of my family served in the U.S. military, and when my brother was in Iraq and Afghanistan I was very conscious of the soldiers who were in harm’s way. However, maybe because all my military family members lived–which I’m very thankful for–I forget about others’ sacrifices. I’m not good at remembering unless I have something personal at stake. Well, I do again. One of my nephews has enlisted in the Army.
How can we honor those men and women who served and maybe even died for us?
- Attend a Memorial Day ceremony or parade.
- Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance, a minute of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.
- Donate money to a veterans’ group or buy a Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) paper poppy.
- Send a note or a care package to a someone we know who’s serving in the military.
- Watch a documentary or patriotic movie.
- Read a fiction or non-fiction book about a soldier.
I love children’s books, and many of them deal with war, soldiers, and soldiers’ families. Here are just five kids’ books I’ve read that can add meaning to Memorial Day:
- The White Table by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Mike Benny
- Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams
- Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry
- The Fighting Ground by Avi
- Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
For more information about Memorial Day:
What does Memorial Day mean to you?
How do you observe it?
What other kids’ books would you recommend?