Saturday, May 23, 2009

The History of Memorial Day and the National World War One Museum, Kansas City

Randall Stephens

As Americans cram their faces with hot dogs and swill cheap beer, many will also reflect on the heroic efforts of countless men and women who have served their country over the years. Parades, concerts, and ceremonies across Boston will turn our attention to those who fought and died for their country. The National memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., will draw a massive crowd of observers in the capitol and TV viewers.

According to the Library of Congress it all began in 1868 when:

Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a memorial day "for the purpose of strewing with 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."

The first national celebration of the holiday took place
May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried. Originally known as Decoration Day, at the turn of the century it was designated as Memorial Day. In many American towns, the day is celebrated with a parade.

One of my favorite history museums in the country, the National World War One Museum in Kansas City, will be open on Monday. A visit to it would make a perfect outing for the holiday. Open since 2006,

and designated by Congress as the nation’s official World War I Museum, the new state-of-the-art complex uses an incredible collection and highly-interactive technology to bring this global history to life, and to foster timely discussions of ethics, values, decision making and conflict resolution.

See also, Jeffrey S. Reznick, "Memorial Day, the Great War, and America’s Last Surviving World War I Veteran," History News Network, May 26, 2008; and Adam Cohen, "What the History of Memorial Day Teaches About Honoring the War Dead," New York Times, May 28, 2007.

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