Memorial Day is more than a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer — it was created to pay tribute to soldiers who have served our country in the U.S. military. The holiday, which dates back to the Civil War, has a rich history of honoring the men and women who have died for our country.
Originally, Memorial Day was meant to honor deceased Civil War soldiers by encouraging citizens to decorate their graves with flowers and flags. It was called Decoration Day. The tradition began on May 30, 1868 when General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.
After General Garfield spoke, 5,000 people decorated the graves of over 20,000 soldiers laid to rest in the historic cemetery in Washington, D.C. The origin of the holiday is often contested, however, because many communities adopted a similar tradition. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the birthplace of Memorial Day because the entire community recognized the holiday annually beginning on May 5, 1866 — two years earlier than Garfield’s Decoration Day.
Now, Memorial Day is celebrated throughout the country with a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery with a speech given by the President or Vice-President and flags placed at every one of the 300,000 soldiers’ graves.
No matter where you go in Washington, you can always see this memorial to our first president. It's the tallest building in the entire city and it's going to stay that way. There's a law that says you can't build a structure taller than the Washington Monument.
Inside this memorial is a huge statue of President Abraham Lincoln. Pillars surround it on the outside, one for each state of the union during the Civil War.
Like the Lincoln Memorial, there's a very tall statue inside of this memorial. This is dedicated to of President Thomas Jefferson, the main writer of our Constitution. Although he was young at the time, he was a great leader, and we honor his accomplishments with this great memorial.
Ask your family members if they remember the day when President Kennedy was assassinated and they will probably remember exactly where they were and what they were doing. He's buried in Arlington Cemetery, where this eternal flame guards his memory. His wife and children are buried beside him, and his brother Robert is buried nearby.
This is just one of the 10 rooms in the FDR memorial. Other rooms are filled with beautiful waterfalls. The president loved the water because he felt that it was one place where he was equal to everyone else. (President Roosevelt had polio and was confined to a wheelchair.)
This memorial depicts American soldiers in rain ponchos walking through a field. There's a plaque directly in front of where I was standing when I took this picture that says, "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." I love that quote. They didn't know the people they were fighting for, yet they did it anyway. Now that's courage.
One thing I like about this photo is the street sign in the foreground. At first I was kind of disappointed because there was something in the way of the memorial. Looking at it now, I have a whole different perspective on it. This battle was a turning point in World War II, and like the sign says, there's no turning back.
This memorial is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's in Arlington Cemetery. Our group had the guards posted here place a wreath on the tomb. Those guards are very disciplined. During one of the hurricanes that hit Virginia last summer, they stayed at their posts. Isn't that amazing?