Memorial Day weekend is the perfect occasion for us to hand the reins of our weekly Friday email to MSG Josh Guyse, Executive Director of the Duke Cannon Veterans Fund. Among other things, MSG Guyse has a rich knowledge of our nation's history and a deep interest in our military's past and present. Today, he shares the origins of the Memorial Day holiday we will all be enjoying this weekend. After reading, we hope you will experience the coming days with a new level of appreciation.
In May of 1866, the town of Waterloo, New York, held a solemn event—a community gathering, aimed to honor those who gave their lives during the American Civil War. With flags at half mast, residents of Waterloo marched to three village cemeteries to decorate the graves of soldiers. Across the United States, communities echoed this sentiment, holding their own days of remembrance, always in the spring.

As time passed, General John Logan recognized the need for a nationwide observance. Eventually, he championed the idea of a national holiday dedicated to adorning the graves of fallen soldiers. Thus, “Decoration Day” was born, and each year, on the 30th of May, people would come together to honor those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.

The tradition endured, but its scope expanded. As World War I unfolded, the focus shifted from solely honoring Civil War veterans to recognizing all who had died in service to our great nation. Decades rolled by, and Decoration Day—now known as Memorial Day—remained steadfastly anchored and respectfully celebrated on the 30th.

In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed, moving Memorial Day to the fourth Monday of May. This change allowed for the long weekend we currently enjoy, but the essence remained unchanged: a day to reflect on the courage, valor, and selflessness of the patriotic dead.

So, this weekend, as you gather with friends and loved ones to fire up the grill and enjoy a cold beverage, please take a moment to pause and remember those who gave their last full measure for our country. Their sacrifice ensures that each of us can enjoy the freedoms and opportunities we hold dear today, this weekend, and every day.

Joshua R. Guyse
Executive Director, Duke Cannon Veterans Fund