Memorial Day facts to recall

By | May 23, 2012

First Called?

Three years after the Civil War ended, in 1868, General John Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) issued a proclamation to observe “Decoration Day” on May 30, 1868, in honor of the war’s dead. The national event took place in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

On Monday?

Since then, the observation spread to all 50 states and expanded into a day to commemorate all America’s war dead. Since 1971, the holiday has been celebrated on the last Monday in May.


Even though the day is now often one of fun and relaxation, its somber elements remain. A national moment of silence is held at 3 p.m. local time each Memorial Day. The U.S. flag also flies at half-staff from dawn to noon in national mourning. Memorial Day parades take place in many communities and conclude in local cemeteries with laying flowers at war memorials. The National Wreath Laying Ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. in Arlington Cemetery on May 28 at the Tomb of the Unknowns.


The playing of “Taps” will be heard many times on Memorial Day. This bugle call marked its 150th anniversary this year. It is another vestige of the Civil War and was used by both Union and Confederate troops. It is also called “Butterfield’s Lullaby” and was written by a Union Army General and Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Butterfield.


Many parishes will offer Mass on Memorial Day. There will also be Masses in cemeteries, including one celebrated by Bishop David Ricken at Allouez Catholic Cemetery on May 28 at 10:30 a.m. While this is a national holiday, the Roman Missal lists several special Masses and prayers for the day that may be used. For example, there is the Mass for Independence Day and Other Civic Observances, or the Mass for the Nation. The entrance antiphon for the Mass for Independence Day begins “Give peace, Lord, to those who wait for you…”


While Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives for our country, it is not a war holiday. Rather, those who died did so in order that we might enjoy the fruits of peace. That we can celebrate this holiday with parties and family gatherings — in a spirit of peace and joy and not one of fear — is a testament to their sacrifices. Let us remember the prayer of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations in October of 1965: “No more war, never again war. Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of people and of all mankind.”

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