Origins of Memorial Day unclear

There are many stories about the beginnings of Memorial Day, with more than 24 towns laying claim to being the birthplace.

There is also evidence that women's groups in the South decorated graves before the end of the Civil War.

While Waterloo, N.Y., was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove how it began, according to It is more likely the federal holiday had many separate beginnings.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in the nation's capitol.

By 1890, Memorial Day was recognized by all northern states, but the South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans, who died fighting in any war.

It is now celebrated in almost every U.S. state on the last Monday in May.

In 1915, Moina Michael was the first to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. She sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need.

Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies.

Two years later, the "Buddy" Poppy program began selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

Locally, during this weekend, members of the VFW Post 8583 and its Ladies Auxiliary will sell those bright, red poppies at various locations throughout Carson Valley.

To remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution, passed in December 2000, asks that at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans: "Voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence."

On April 19, 1999, U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., introduced a bill to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30 instead of 'the last Monday in May."

Gibbons said he believes the National observance of Memorial Day should be marked as a day of prayer and ceremonies that show respect for American veterans of wars and other military conflicts.E

Upon further research, Gibbons found that May 30 was actually chosen due to the traditions of the French. Gibbons has decided not to introduce the bill this year and to instead embrace the tradition that has evolved in the United States.E

"After all, Memorial Day here in the U.S. celebrates and recognizes Americans who fought for freedom and liberty, and how the holiday has evolved is a reflection of our society and democratic choices," Gibbons said.


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