Memorial Day: Past, Present, and Future

May 27, 2024

A Brief History: The first Memorial Day was celebrated on May 5, 1866, in Waterloo, New York. The Civil War ended in the Spring of 1865, and people were anxious to memorialize over 600,000 soldiers killed during this sad time in our history. What started as a community- wide event spread to other towns and cities. Tribute was given to fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and flags and reciting prayers in their honor.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance. He proposed that May 30th be recognized as Decoration Day, and the memorial was adopted. General James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on the first Decoration Day as 5,000 participants decorated 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate buried soldiers. By 1890, all the Northern states recognized Decoration Day as a state holiday, and the Southern states honored their fallen (on different dates) after World War I.

Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day. Instead of its original intent of honoring only Civil War veterans, it became a day to commemorate every fallen American soldier of all the wars. Though observed on May 30th for many years, in 1968, 100 years after the first Decoration Day, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as a federal holiday, giving federal employees a three-day weekend attached to the last Monday of May. This change went into effect in 1971.

As It Stands Today: Memorial Day continues to be an observance remembering deceased Veterans who gave what Abraham Lincoln described as “the last full measure of devotion” in defending our country. Since the Civil War, an additional 650,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed fighting wars around the globe for freedom’s cause—in Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Pacific Rim, and the Middle East. This does not include the brave men and women who returned home to succumb (for years later) to their injuries, PTSD, and government-inflicted atrocities such as the exposure to Agent Orange. Our brave soldiers did not die in vain! We are profoundly grateful for their sacrifices and will never forget them!

Commemorating Memorial Day is as crucial to our past as it is to our future. Too great a price was paid for our freedom to let liberty, civil, and religious freedom—declared ours by our U.S. Constitution—be stolen. The future of the United States depends on how we remember the past, value liberty, and are willing to fight to keep it. “Those that fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” (Winston Churchill, 1948).

The Role of Christians: As Christ-followers, spreading the gospel of Jesus is key. The heart-change of America starts with us, His followers. Jesus commissioned us, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15). Our mission field begins in our own backyard! The Body of Christ must come together to reach people by showing the love of Jesus and standing for the truth of God’s Word. The war for America is NOT yet lost. Two thousand years ago, the battle against all evil was fought on a wooden cross and Jesus won! We fight from that place of victory!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, our hearts are full of thanksgiving that you fought and won the greatest battle at Calvary! Today, we remember the brave men and women that have gone on before us. We pray for peace and comfort for their families who were left behind. Help us always to remember what they fought for and for those who continue the fight to keep this nation free. Give us courage as Christians to stand up to every evil agenda of those who wish to demolish our values. Help us to recognize the opportunities to speak of Jesus wherever we go, saturating every atmosphere with Your love and positivity. Protect our children from those who wish them harm through the influence that opposes Your guiding principles. In the name of Jesus, we pray all of this, Amen!

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