GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – As we head into a big holiday weekend, many of us are excited for cooking out and enjoying the outdoors. Since the 1860s, Memorial Day reminds us of those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.
Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz is a professor of history at East Carolina University. He said Memorial Day began with a general after the Civil War.
“John Logan, who was a Union general from Illinois, was one of the leaders of the movement to create a Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day. The idea was to decorate the graves of those who lost their lives on that day,” said Prokopowicz.
He added the day became an official national holiday after World War I.
“Before World War I, it was very much specifically about the Civil War, and you did have in towns throughout the North you had parades where the surviving veterans would march, they would wear their old uniforms and the whole town would turn out to see them,” he said.
The holiday always took place in the spring when the flowers used to decorate graves would bloom. Since Congress started designating holidays to be on Mondays in the 1970s, Memorial Day has officially been on the last Monday in May.
Veterans said the day hits them a little differently.
“This year, we are reading 500 names of veterans that have gone since last year, which is very sad. And so there’ll be tears, there will be a lot of tears,” said Joe Houle, Vietnam veteran and director of operations at Jacksonville’s Museum of the Marine. He added that on Monday, he hopes people will take some time to really appreciate what the day is all about.
“If it’s possible, and they are somewhere where they can get to go to a service to be able to remember a service member,” said Houle.
He said it’s important to remember the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day because Memorial Day is specifically for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“Veterans Day is to respect all of the past men and women who have put on a uniform, if you will, and Memorial Day is the ones who actually cashed in that blank check to keep us free,” said Houle.
He also said it’s easy to get caught up in a day off of work cooking out and enjoying friends and family, but as a veteran, he spends the day feeling extremely blessed.