Anybody who knows my Dad knows how much he loves history. He was a history teacher in fact. Anybody who knows me though, knows that I on the other hand, was usually found braiding my best friend's hair during history class.
I've always known that Memorial Day was to honor those in the military who have lost their lives, but what else? How did it begin?
In August of 2000, Adam and I went with my parents to visit Charleston, South Carolina. (It turned out that Adam loved history as much as my Dad.) We were all surprised to see cameras and news teams everywhere and wondered what was going on. The buzz around Charleton was that they were raising the "Hunley". Having no idea what that meant, I watched as Adam and my Dad were in awe.
"What's the Hunley?" I asked as Dad smacked his forehead and shot Adam a look that said, "She's all yours now." They explained that during the Civil War, the Confederates made a submarine called "The Hunley."
It was built to sink the blockade ships from the North. The Hunley wasn't the first submarine ever made, but it was the first to sink an enemy ship, which wasn't done again until World War 1.
What fascinated me about the Hunley was a story that we heard about of one of the nine men trapped inside when it sank. Evidently, there was a man named Lt. George Dixon who commanded the submarine. According to legend, Lt. Dixon had a true love back home named Queenie Bennett. Wanting to keep him safe, Queenie sent him off to war with a gold coin as a good luck charm.
Before Lt. Dixon took his fateful trip in the submarine, he had also fought in previous battles, one of them being the battle of Shiloh. When fighting, the legend continues that he was shot - but he wasn't killed by the bullet. It was said that the shot instead, struck the gold coin given by his love, saving his life. Lt. Dixon was never to go without the coin again.
People wondered for over a century if the legend was true. When the Hunley was raised, sure enough...there, beside the remains of Lt. George E. Dixon was a gold coin that was indented.
Inscribed on the coin was this:
April 6, 1862
My life Preserver
G. E. D.
To me, this is one of the countless stories of what Memorial Day is all about. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brother and sisters. So many have lost such loved ones.
Researching more about the history of Memorial Day online, I found that three years after the end of the Civil War on May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic declared that "Decoration Day" be established to honor those who had lost their lives. The soldiers were honored and remembered by decorating their graves. It's believed that the month of May was chosen due to the number of flowers blooming across the country.
By the end of the 1800's, Decoration Day services were being held on May 30th throughout the country. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a National holiday by an act of Congress but can still be heard to be called "Decoration Day" even now. The date was established to be on the last Monday of every May from that year on.
So that's how it began. Memorial Day from that time forward has been a day to reflect and be thankful for those who have sacrificed everything to make this country what it is today.
Happy Memorial Day and Thank You to those who protect and defend this great land.
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