On Monday, May 31, 2021, we recognize the 50th anniversary since Memorial Day became a federal holiday. This post looks at the history of Memorial Day, why we take the day to recognize the fallen and the significance of raising the American flag on the holiday.
The history of Memorial Day
Since the Civil War, Americans have memorialized those who died while serving the country . Once upon a time, it was known as Decoration Day. During the late 1860s, Americans held springtime tributes to fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and offering prayers.
It’s believed that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was brought together by former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
Waterloo, New York, however, was given the distinction of the official birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, via the federal government.
Why do we recognize Memorial Day?
While many of us consider it the unofficial start to summertime , the real purpose of the day is to honor the memory of men and women who died while serving in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard.
“Memorial Day started off as a somber day of remembrance; a day when Americans went to cemeteries and placed flags or flowers on the graves of our war dead. It was a day to remember ancestors, family members, and loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” according to USMemorialDay.org.
At Phaneuf, we are deeply grateful to the brave men and women who have served our wonderful country via the different branches of the military. When a person makes the choice to enter the military, they make tremendous sacrifices. They leave family, friends and home to pursue a life centered on fulfilling the oath of defending the country.
Veterans are the reason that we have so many freedoms in our country – some taken for granted. Liberty is not cheap and it certainly wasn’t easy to achieve. When we are born into it, we may not think of those who fought for freedom. We may not always remember that those from all branches of the military gave up so much defending this country.
Veterans put their lives on the line for the people of the United States of America. It isn’t about putting on a uniform; it’s what that uniform represents. It isn’t about wearing some pins or ribbons; it’s about understanding that those are the most-costly pins and ribbons in the world.
Whether they died in service or not, honoring veterans is a time-honored tradition that is exercised in many cultures, including the United States. Taking the time to show respect for those who served is often a great comfort for the family. They can enjoy the pride in their loved one and recall a life well lived.
Celebrating the courage and selflessness of our veterans is very cathartic and healing. It brings peace to family and friends while creating a memorial they can always carry with them. Remember to honor veterans with a moment of silence at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.
How to retire a flag
Memorial Day is often when we take Old Glory out of storage and run it up the flagpole. Traditionally, it should be fully raised then lowered to half-staff until noon. After that it should be raised to full-staff for the rest of the day. When the flag is at half-staff, we remember the million-plus men and women who died serving our country. When it is raised to full-staff, their “memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.”
But, if you notice some tears and tatters on the flag this year, we encourage you to retire it and get a new one before the Fourth of July. At Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium, we’ve made it easy for residents of New Hampshire. Bring your retired American flag to one of our locations at 243 Hanover St. in Manchester or 172 King St. in Boscawen. We have mailboxes with red, white and blue flag wraps to make them easy to recognize.
Just place your retired flag into the mailbox slot and we will give it a proper retirement, per the U.S. Flag Code. Congress passed the joint resolution in 1942, providing guidance of how to and how not to display the American flag, and how to retire an American flag.
“When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified and ceremonious fashion, preferably by burning,” per the code.
Phaneuf has retired more than 1,000 flags since we started the program four years ago. We utilize our crematorium to burn decommissioned or tattered flags in a respectful manner.