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Enjoy this year's Memorial Day in Washington DC

Washington DC Memorial Day

The American tradition of Memorial Day began more than 100 years ago. It was at the end of a brutal war, a war in which brother fought brother and the best of friends became the worst of enemies. It was the Civil War - one of the worst wars ever fought by the people of this nation - and it was fought on our own soil.

On May 5, 1868, General John Logan proclaimed this day a holiday through his General Order no. 11; it was called Decoration Day. Decoration day was first observed on May 30, 1868. In 1882, the name Decoration day was changed to Memorial Day, and in 1971, Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday to be held the last Monday of May every year.

Memorial Day is a day to celebrate and thank all these people who died (or are MIA) to create the freedoms we enjoy today. Many people travel to the final resting place of their deceased relatives or friends in cemeteries around the country to decorate their graves on this national holiday. Additionally, Memorial Day is about celebrating all people - all of our ancestors and forefathers - who have created the world we live in today and who have paved the long road we walk down into the future.

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What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May (observed in 2009 on May 25). It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates US men and women who have died in the line of duty for our country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. One of the longest standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. It is also traditionally viewed as the beginning of summer by many, for many schools are dismissed for the summer around Memorial Day.

Observance

Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm Washington time. Another tradition is to fly the US flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers place a US flag upon each gravesite located in a National Cemetery.

In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also a time for picnics, family gatherings, and sporting events. Some Americans view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer and Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season. The national Click it or ticket campaign ramps up beginning Memorial Day weekend, noting the beginning of the most dangerous season for auto accidents and other safety related incidents. The USAF "101 Critical days of summer" also begin on this day as well. Some Americans use Memorial Day to also honor any family members who have died, not just servicemen.

Memorial Day formerly occurred on May 30, and some, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), advocate returning to this fixed date, although the significance of the date is tenuous. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, has repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional day since 1998.

Now Memorial Day is somewhat of a celebration when people come together to honor their close friends or relatives who died in combat. It is still very much about honoring America's fallen soldiers, such as the gatherings at places like Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia to visit such moving memorial tributes such as the tomb of the unknown soldier, which represents "every man" who with bold patriotism layed down their life for this country.

History of Memorial Day

Silence and Respect

The American tradition of Memorial Day began more than 100 years ago. It was at the end of a brutal war, a war in which brother fought brother and the best of friends became the worst of enemies. It was the Civil War, one of the worst wars ever fought by the people of this nation, and it was fought on our own soil. At the end of this war, family members of the many soldiers slain in battle would visit the grave sites of their fallen relatives or friends and decorate their graves with flowers.

On May 5, 1868, General John Logan proclaimed this day a holiday through his General Order no. 11. The day was entitled Decoration Day. Decoration day was first observed on May 30, 1868. The northern states celebrated this day every year, but the southern states celebrated a day similar to this on a different day until sometime after World War I.

In 1882, the name Decoration day was changed to Memorial Day, and in 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday of May every year.

Arlington

The modern celebration of Memorial Day is similar to the original celebration, but today we have expanded upon the original idea. Today, Memorial Day is a time of the year when people come together to honor their close friends or relatives who have died. It is still very much about honoring America's fallen soldiers, such as in gatherings at places like the Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, Virginia to visit such moving memorial tributes such as the tomb of the unknown soldier, which represents "everyman" who with bold patriotism layed down their life for this country. But in addition to this, Memorial Day is about celebrating all people, all of our ancestors and forefathers who have created the world we live in today, who have paved the long road we walk down into the future. It is a day to celebrate and thank all these people who died to create what we have today.

Many people travel to the graves of their dead relatives or friends in cemetaries around the country to decorate their graves on this national holiday.

This day of memorial is something engrained in our culture, and in -- every culture of the world -- a tribute, to honor the people who embodied the dreams and the passionate fire of an entire country.

The Origins of the 21 Gun Salute

The tradition of saluting can be traced to the Middle Ages practice of placing oneself in an unarmed position and, therefore, in the power of those being honored. The cannon salute might have originated in the 17th century with the maritime practice of demanding that a defeated enemy expend its ammunition and render itself helpless until reloaded -- a time-consuming operation in that era.

In the Anglo-Saxon Empire, seven guns was a recognized naval salute, seven being the standard number of weapons on a vessel. Because more gunpowder could be stored on dry land, forts could fire three rounds for every one fired from sea, hence the number 21. With the improvement of naval gunpowder, honors rendered at sea were increased to 21 as well.

Beginning in our colonial period the United States fired one shot for each state in the Union. This was continued until 1841 when it was reduced to 21 from 26. Although it had been in use for more than 30 years, the 21-gun salute was not formally adopted until Aug. 18, 1875. This was at the suggestion of the British, who proposed a "Gun for Gun Return" to their own 21-gun salute.

The Origin of Taps

Tomb of the Unknown Soilder

During the Civil War, in July 1862 when the Army of the Potomac was in camp, Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield summoned Pvt. Oliver Wilcox Norton, his brigade bugler, to his tent. Butterfield, who disliked the colorless "extinguish lights" call then in use, whistled a new tune and asked the bugler to sound it for him. After repeated trials and changing the time of some notes which were scribbled on the back of an envelope, the call was finally arranged to suit Gen. Butterfield and used for the first time that night. Pvt. Norton, who on several occasions, had sounded numerous new calls composed by his commander, recalled his experience of the origin of "Taps" years later:

"One day in July 1862 when the Army of the Potomac was in camp at Harrison's Landing on the James River, Virginia, resting and recruiting from its losses in the seven days of battle before Richmond, Gen. Butterfield summoned the writer to his tent, and whistling some new tune, asked the bugler to sound it for him. This was done, not quite to his satisfaction at first, but after repeated trials, changing the time of some of the notes, which were scribbled on the back of an envelope, the call was finally arranged to suit the general.

"He then ordered that it should be substituted in his brigade for the regulation "Taps" (extinguish lights) which was printed in the Tactics and used by the whole army. This was done for the first time that night. The next day buglers from nearby brigades came over to the camp of Butterfield's brigade to ask the meaning of this new call. They liked it, and copying the music, returned to their camps, but it was not until some time later, when generals of other commands had heard its melodious notes, that orders were issued, or permission given, to substitute it throughout the Army of the Potomac for the time-honored call which came down from West Point.

In the western armies the regulation call was in use until the autumn of 1863. At that time the XI and XII Corps were detached from the Army of the Potomac and sent under command of Gen. Hooker to reinforce the Union Army at Chattanooga, Tenn. Through its use in these corps it became known in the western armies and was adopted by them. From that time, it became and remains to this day the official call for "Taps." It is printed in the present Tactics and is used throughout the U.S. Army, the National Guard, and all organizations of veteran soldiers.

Gen. Butterfield, in composing this call and directing that it be used for "Taps" in his brigade, could not have foreseen its popularity and the use for another purpose into which it would grow. Today, whenever a man is buried with military honors anywhere in the United States, the ceremony is concluded by firing three volleys of musketry over the grave, and sounding with the trumpet or bugle "Put out the lights. Go to sleep"...There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air."

Patriotic poetry and writings dedicated to Memorial Day.

Faith

Memories

The Unknown Soldier


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