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A day of remembrance

24 May 2000 | Cpl. Scott Carlson Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

Monday, the nation is given a day to look back and remember those who have given their lives in service to the United States and its citizens.

This was not always the case with Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it is still sometimes called.

It was May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War had drawn to a close, that the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day, according to the Virginia Government Web site. Decoration Day was to be a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Civil War's dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared Decoration Day would fall on May 30.

"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land," states Logan's General Order #11, written May 5, 1868. "In this observance, no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

That year, the first large ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery, which was located across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. Approximately 5,000 people turned out to the service. Small American flags were placed on each grave. At the time, the cemetery was home of the remains of more than 20,000 Civil War veterans.

Memorial Day wasn't, and still isn't, the only day Americans are given to honor those who died during and after the Civil War. Some Southern states take an extra day to honor fallen Confederate troops; Jan. 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina and June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee.

During the 1950s, 1,200 soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry began placing American flags at each of the more than 260,000 graves encompassed within the Arlington National Cemetery the Thursday before Memorial Day. For three days, the soldiers patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day to ensure none of the flags fall over.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts place roughly 15,300 candles at the gravesites of Civil War soldiers buried at Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights in Virginia. This began in 1998. nation's remembrance of those who died to protect those virtues each American takes for granted everyday?

"... Most American's  have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day," according to the U.S. Memorial Day Organization.

"I don't believe the younger generation holds the same respect  the older generation did," said John D. Kite, financial operations officer, Financial Operations Office, and 20-year Marine Corps and Viet Nam War veteran. "The strong family unity is not there as it was back in the late 60s-early 70s, where families went to the cemetery to visit the graves of their past loved ones."

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