Monday, May 29th, 2023 is Memorial Day. While many people celebrate the three-day weekend with a trip to the pool or a backyard barbecue, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for military service members and veterans who have passed away.
The origins of Memorial Day are traced back to the end of the Civil War. In 1868, three years after the war ended, Decoration Day was established to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war. Local organizations across the country held similar observances before Decoration Day was established, but in 1966, both Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the “birthplace” of Memorial Day to be in Waterloo, NY.
On May 5, 1866, Waterloo organized a large-scale observance by closing businesses and flying flags at half-staff to honor local Civil War veterans. By the end of the 1800s, many state legislatures established formal designations for veteran celebrations, and the Army and the Navy adopted regulations for observances. However, after World War I, the day was expanded not only to honor those who died in the Civil War, but to honor soldiers in all American wars who have died.
Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday in 1971. It is observed on the last Monday in May, and it is still known as Decoration Day.
The American flag is a patriotic symbol for the United States, and it is closely tied with Memorial Day celebrations. There is specific etiquette for flying the American flag on Memorial Day. At sunrise, the flag is fully raised before being lowered to half-staff, where it will stay until noon. Volunteers and visitors will also place small American flags on the graves of soldiers at national cemeteries.
Another symbol often associated with veterans is the poppy flower. The 1915 poem “In Flanders Field” depicts the site of poppies growing over a field where many soldiers died while fighting in World War I. Since then, poppies are often worn in honor of fallen soldiers, and the Friday before Memorial Day is celebrated as National Poppy Day.
If you’re interested in honoring veterans in your community, do some research into your local veterans organizations to find out if there are volunteer opportunities you can get involved in. There are also organizations like the Disabled American Veterans Charity (DAV) that work to provide support and resources for disabled veterans, and the Big Apple Honor Flight (part of the National Honor Flight Network) that honors local veterans and takes them to visit national memorials in Washington D.C.
Be sure to check out some of our Memorial Day events, like the Memorial Day: Storycraft on Friday, May 26 at the Crestwood Library, or our Zoom event Art with Erica: Poppy Watercolor on Wednesday, May 31.
When you visit the library this weekend, check out some of these books about American wars and veterans, or ask your librarian for a recommendation.
The Yonkers Public Library will be closed on Sunday, May 28 and Monday, May 29 in observance of Memorial Day.
Alison Robles is a part-time page at the Crestwood Library. She is an avid reader with a passion for YA lit, historical fiction and fantasy. A Yonkers native, she graduated from Iona University in 2020 with a dual-degree in Marketing and Public Relations. She is pursuing a Masters in Information and Library Science from the University at Buffalo.