Memorial Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May. This year the holiday will be observed on May 30th. Memorial Day honors U.S. military personnel who have died while serving their country.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It was first celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 as a tribute to the Confederate and Union soldiers who died during the Civil War.
in June of 1882, American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow commemorated the event with a “Decoration Day” poem.
Decoration Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
Decades later, author and poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer penned his own Memorial Day poem. Kilmer, who was born in 1886, was a member of the New York National Guard during WWI. In 1917 he was sent to France with the 69th Infantry Regiment. During the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.
Memorial Day by Joyce Kilmer
The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings today.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.
The rose blossoms white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.
Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.
May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.
In shining rank on rank arrayed,
They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace. . . who brought a sword.
People often visit military cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day, and place flags on the graves of service members. A National Memorial Day Parade is also held each year in Washington, D.C.