From 1968 until 1971, Memorial Day was on May 30.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11.
The holiday was originally called Decoration Day. It was first referred to as Memorial Day in 1882, and after World War II it was commonly referred to as Memorial Day. The name was officially changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day by Federal law in 1967.
The first Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868, when people placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
For more than 100 years Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30.
But that all changed when Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363), which amended the federal holiday provisions of the United States Code, and made Memorial Day a mandatory three-day weekend.
The Act was signed into law on June 28, 1968 and took effect on January 1, 1971
The National Holiday Act changed the dates of these four holidays.
- The celebration of Washington’s Birthday was changed from February 22 to the third Monday in February.
- The celebration of Memorial Day was changed from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
- The celebration of Columbus Day was changed from October 12 to the second Monday in October.
- The celebration of Veterans Day was changed from November 11 to the fourth Monday in October. However, in 1978 Congress passed another law that changed Veterans Day back to November 11.
There is a national movement to help restore the traditional day of observance for Memorial Day because, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
But some people understand the true meaning of Memorial Day, no matter what day it is celebrated on, and regardless of whether people call it Decoration Day or Memorial Day. Some people just get it.
This Memorial Day weekend was sandwiched between two remarkable displays of how some people understand the meaning of Memorial Day; one on Friday night and the other on Monday morning.
For me, Memorial Day is about friends, my twelve friends who never made it back from Vietnam, and whose names are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
That’s the way Memorial Day is when you’re a combat veteran. That’s the way it is when you serve in the military in wartime.
It is wartime now, and there’s at least one person in Brockport, New York who understands how important Memorial Day is to the families of our servicemen and women.
At the August 25, 2010 Brockport Village Board Meeting, Connie Collins, whose son is serving in Afghanistan, told the Village Board about the Hometown Heroes banners she’d seen in the neighboring village of Spencerport just a few miles east along the Erie Canal.
Each banner had a photo of a local serviceman and woman, and Collins asked the Village Board to consider hanging Hometown Heroes banners on the .lampposts in downtown Brockport.
But Mayor Connie Castaneda, who was recently arrested for political corruption and charged with 14 counts of official misconduct, went into a long tirade about how the Village can’t afford to spend the money to buy the banners or to pay the DPW workers to hang the banners.
The Village Trustees didn’t do anything about Connie Collin’s request, but a Brockport police officer did.
Officer Brian Winant thought that the Mayor’s tirade was an insult, so he started a campaign to the raise money to buy the banners, and he organized a group of volunteers to hang the banners on the lampposts.
He did it in 2010, he did it in 2011, and he did it again in 2012.
At 8:14 pm Friday night I got a phone call from Brian Winant, who told me that the 2012 Hometown Heroes Banners were ready, and he wanted to know if I would meet him uptown and help hang the banners.
That phone call put a huge smile on my face. The banners were going to be up in downtown Brockport for Memorial Day.
People walking down Main Street in Brockport appreciated it so much that they stopped to thank us and to ask what they could do to help.
One family from out of town asked if they could help hold the ladder while Joy Levandowski climbed up and hung the banners. Another man others held the tools and the banners.
Two men on motorcycles stopped, parked their bikes, took off the helmets, and helped hang banners until every lamppost was full.
It was a great show of civic pride. Some did a little, some did a lot. But there was no complaining. Everyone had a smile on their face, and every one of them felt they were doing something that should be done for our community.
What a great start to the Memorial Day weekend!
Friday night’s great experience carried over to Saturday when I walked uptown to look at the Hometown Heroes banners in the daylight. They look great.
Sunday, however, was a tough day even though I worked in the garden all day, and had a back yard barbecue, I kept thinking of my friends who had never made it home to their wives and families.
John was a high school classmate; Ty and Rich were college classmates, while I knew John, Bill, Russ, Pappy, Tom, Jim, Joe, Andy, and John from my days in the Air Force.
Isn’t that what Memorial Day is all about; America’s servicemen and women who never came back?
Then on Monday morning, Memorial Day, when I checked my email, I got the shock of my life. I had about a half dozen emails from people I’d never heard of, who had all commented on a photo on Facebook tagged with my name on it.
I also had an email from John Coon, a man who had gone to high school with John R. Bush, the closest friend I’ve ever had.
John Bush and I went through undergraduate navigator training (UNT) together in 1966-67, and navigator bombardier training (NBT) in 1967-68 at Mather Air Force Base, California.
During navigator bombardier training, John and I car pooled together; half the time we’d ride to the base in my tan Volkswagen, and half the time we’d ride in John’s red Triumph.
You can get really close to someone doing that. It was definitely a two person car pool, which was very appropriate since John and I took turns being number one in the class all the way through NBT.
Our graduation from NBT was the last time I ever saw John. His F-4D was shot down during a bombing mission over North Vietnam on July 24, 1968. He’s been Missing in Action ever since.
The email I received from John Coon on Memorial Day was a simple digital photo of the front page of Sunday’s Selma Times-Journal, John Bush’s hometown newspaper, and a short note to tell me that there was a hardcopy of the newspaper in the mail headed ny way.
The front page story was about John Bush, the best friend I ever had in the world.
That’s what Memorial Day is all about for me; friends like Brian Winant and Joy Levandowski, who go out of their way to make sure Brockport’s Hometown Heroes Banners, got hung on Main Street in time for Memorial Day.
And people like John Coon, who I have never met, who cared enough to make sure I knew about the front page story about my friend John on Memorial Day.
Today is May 30, traditional Memorial Day. Keep the servicemen and women from your local area in mind today, and thank them for their service.
And never forget America’s servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.