Since You Asked: It used to be called Decoration Day

At one time Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. What happened?

— Maxine S., Ashland

You are absolutely right, Maxine. The holiday we just celebrated was once known as Decoration Day.

But the name was changed well before anyone living today was born, including those of us who are getting long of tooth at the SYA Research Complex and Lounge.

The special day was born in the spring of 1866 when Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of Waterloo, N.Y., suggested that patriots who had died in the Civil War be honored by decorating their graves. Of course, both sides in that war, which, incidentally was not at all civil, had been decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.

What was then officially known as Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed officially on May 30 of that year when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

However, the South did not observe Decoration Day, preferring to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I.

In any case, the name was changed to Memorial Day in 1882. With the name change, all soldiers who died in war were included in that honor.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.

But many folks look at Memorial Day as simply a three-day weekend to herald the start of summer, forgetting that it was to honor those who died in service to their country.

So Congress passed the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed in which asks all Americans at 3 p.m. local time, "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or to listen to taps."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to

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