One among our holidays alone bears the name and the specific call to remembrance: Memorial Day.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a post-Civil War holiday. It was first instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 30, 1868, “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, hamlet, and churchyard in the land.” If the Fourth of July renews the memory of the birth of the nation, Decoration Day renews the memory of those who gave their lives that that nation might live. Or again, in Lincoln’s words, “That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom.”
After World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to commemorate the lives of all those who have died in service to our country. In the past decade, hundreds have been added to the roster of those whose lives and service we are summoned today to remember.
But how should we the living best honor these lives and those memories? In what manner and spirit should we remember? Why Memorial Day today? Our ebook, “The Meaning of Memorial Day,” explores these questions with selections from American authors and statesmen, including Herman Melville, Ernie Pyle, Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion.