Note: An annual memorial ceremony is held each year at Eternal Valley in Santa Clarita. More information on that event is listed at the end of this article.
These days, Memorial Day has become synonymous with the beginning of summer. A three-day weekend, warm weather and plenty of pool parties usually have us all celebrating what’s to come.
But Memorial Day was designed to honor what has already passed; the American soldiers lost in war.
The holiday goes back to May 30, 1868, after U.S. General John Logan issued General Order #11, which called for the decoration of the Union and Confederate soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery. At the time, the day was called “Decoration Day,” and the Library of Congress notes that General Logan directed the day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
Several towns in the U.S. claim to be the actual birth place of Memorial Day, having recorded honorary ceremonies as early as 1864.
For the next half-century Americans used the day to remember those who fell in the Civil War; however after World War 1 the day was loosely used to commemorate all American War casualties.
In 1971 a federal law officially acknowledged fallen soldiers of all American wars, and also directed that the holiday be observed on the last Monday of every month, thus creating a three-day weekend.
That three-day weekend, according to some, has caused the holiday’s real meaning to become watered down amongst vacations and holiday plans.
But some traditions still survive. Since the original Memorial Day, small American flags have been placed at each grave in Arlington National Cemetery, and many other cemeteries have adopted the practice. And beginning in the 1950’s Army troops have stood guard over the flags for the duration of the weekend.
Additionally, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that many southern states still celebrate a separate day specifically for confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War.
Flag traditions for the day are also alive and well. The official flag raising process for Memorial Day, according to the Library of Congress, involves quickly hoisting the flag to the top of the pole at sunrise, then immediately bringing it down to half mast. At noon, the flag should be raised again to full mast, and kept there until sunset.
Locally, Eternal Valley will host “A Tribute to Veterans” on Monday, May 25 beginning at 10:00 a.m. The main ceremony lasts about one hour, and afterwards the names listed on the Memorial Wall will be read while a bag pipe plays in the background.
Some pictures from last year’s Memorial Day service.