It was 1866 and the United States was recovering from
the long and bloody Civil War between the North and the South. Surviving
soldiers came home, some with missing limbs, and all with stories to tell.
Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, heard the stories
and had an idea. He suggested that all the shops in town close for one day
to honor the soldiers who were killed in the Civil War and were buried in
the Waterloo cemetery. On the morning of May 5, the townspeople placed
flowers, wreaths（花环）and crosses on the graves
of the Northern soldiers in the cemetery. At about the same time, Retired
Major General Jonathan A. Logan planned another ceremony, this time for
the soldiers who survived the war. He led the veterans through town to the
cemetery to decorate their comrades' graves with flags. It was not a happy
celebration, but a memorial. The townspeople called it Decoration Day.
The two ceremonies were joined in 1868, and northern states
commemorated the day on May 30. The southern states commemorated their war
dead on different days. Children read poems and sang civil war songs and
veterans came to school wearing their medals and uniforms to tell students
about the Civil War. Then the veterans marched through their home towns
followed by the townspeople to the cemetery. They decorated graves and
took photographs of soldiers next to American flags. Rifles were shot in
the air as a salute to the northern soldiers who had given their lives to
keep the United States together.
In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and soldiers who had died
in previous wars were honored as well. In the northern United States, it
was designated a public holiday. In 1971, along with other holidays,
President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the
last Monday in May.
Cities all around the United States hold their own ceremonies on the
last Monday in May to pay respect to the men and women who have died in
wars or in the service of their country.
Memorial Day is not limited to honor only those Americans from the
armed forces. It is also a day for personal remembrance. Families and
individuals honor the memories of their loved ones who have died. Church
services, visits to the cemetery, flowers on graves or even silent tribute
mark the day with dignity and solemnity. It is a day of reflection.
However, to many Americans the day also signals the beginning of summer
with a three-day weekend to spend at the beach, in the mountains or at
In Waterloo, New York, the origin has not been lost and in fact the
meaning has become even more special. President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed
Waterloo the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, 100 years after the first
commemoration. Every May 30, townspeople still walk to the cemeteries and
hold memorial services. They decorate the graves with flags and flowers.
Then they walk back to the park in the middle of town. In the middle of
the park, near a monument dedicated to soldiers, sailors and marines, the
Gettysburg address is read, followed by Retired Major General Logan's
Order # 11 designating Decoration Day. The village choirs sing patriotic
songs. In the evening, school children take part in a parade.
Arlington National Cemetery（美国阿林顿国家公墓）in Virginia is the nation's largest
national cemetery. Not only are members of the armed forces buried here;
astronauts, explorers and other distinguished Americans have all been
honored with a special place here. President John F. Kennedy is buried in
a spot overlooking Washington, D.C..
Here in the early hours of the Friday morning before Memorial Day,
soldiers of the Third U.S. infantry walk along the rows of headstones.
Each soldier stops at a headstone, reaches to a bundle of flags he is
carrying, pulls one out and pushes it into the ground. These soldiers are
part of a special regiment. the Old Guard. Most consider it a privilege to
place flags on the more than two hundred thousand graves of soldiers who
served in the wars or who died in them. "They have done their job," said
one soldier, "and now it's my turn to do mine."
It is an equal honor to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier all year.
There are actually four soldiers buried in this spot: the unknown soldiers
of the two World Wars, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam War. Each
soldier represents all of those who gave their lives in the modern wars.
Soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry guard the tomb twenty-four hours a
day. Wreath-laying ceremonies take place all through the year and people
from all over the world come to watch the changing of the guard. On
another hill of Arlington Cemetery there is a mass grave of unidentified
soldiers from the Civil War.
On Memorial Day, the President or Vice President of the United States
gives a speech and lays a wreath on the tombs. Members of the armed forces
shoot a rifle salute in the air. Veterans and families come to lay their
own wreaths and say prayers. There is a chance that one of the soldiers
buried here is a father, son, brother or friend.
Some southern states continue to celebrate Memorial Day on various
days, i.e. June 3rd in Louisiona and Tennessee called "Confederate
Memorial Day" and on May 10th in North and South Carolina.