Release Date: 
Thursday, May 23, 2019

What Memorial Day means

stars and strips stylized with Memorial Day in type

This message is part of a series from President Kavalhuna that aims to raise our community’s awareness of major holidays, including cultural, historic, and religious observances throughout the year.

Othe final Monday in May, we will celebrate the federal holiday of Memorial Day. Most public offices, organizations, and schools, including Henry Ford College, encourage employees to honor and celebrate this day with a paid day away from work activities. Like most institutions, we also suspend classes so that students may celebrate.

What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is an American holiday, though there are other countries, such as Canada, that have similar observances.

Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It is considered our most solemn national holiday. It is sometimes confused with Veterans Day (November 11), which honors all military veterans.

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began informally in the years following the American Civil War (1861-1865). As the deadliest war in American history, the Civil War led to our first military cemeteries. The most famous is Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

By the late 1860s, Americans across the country began holding springtime tributes to their fallen service members, decorating their graves with flowers, and saying prayers.

In May 1865, more than 1,000 people who had formerly been enslaved gathered with members of the U.S. Colored Troops and local residents in Charleston, SC. They met at a former prisoner of war camp to establish a burial site for federal soldiers who died there. They sang hymns, eulogized the dead, and distributed flowers.

Over 100 years later, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as a federal holiday. The law went into effect in 1971.

When is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is the final Monday in May each year.

Celebrations and observances

Cities and towns around the nation host Memorial Day parades, which often include active-duty military personnel and veterans, as well as local bands and community organizations.

Dearborn normally hosts one of the largest Memorial Day parades in the country, and the oldest parade in Michigan. I am proud to have walked in it in 2019. The parade will not be held in 2020, due to COVID-19.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or veterans’ memorials and holding family and community gatherings. Most public cemeteries mark the graves of military veterans with American flags for the holiday weekend.

Unofficially, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season.

As a military-friendly campus and veteran-friendly employer and gold-level veteran-friendly school, Henry Ford College opened its new Veterans Center on the HFC campus in late May 2019, and you can read about that here. We are proud to welcome all veterans and active-duty military members to our campus community.

This country is safe, open, and ruled by its own citizens. This would not be the case without those who gave their lives in military service. Please join me in honoring their sacrifice and ultimate devotion by recognizing Memorial Day.

Russ Kavalhuna