It’s a little before noon on the last Monday of May. Sunburnt parents stuff sandy beach buckets into the trunk of the car. They look for space to store sea shells in empty coolers and laundry underneath the back seat. It’s only been a couple of days since school and work let out for a long weekend “ down the Shore,” but somehow it seems like the family car shrunk and its contents multiplied. Little ones buckle their seat belts, bracing themselves for the long car ride home and back to school on Tuesday. It was all a tease. The warm weather. The barbecues and ice cream. The salt air trapping itself in your lungs after a long day on the beach. It’s still a few more weeks before school lets out, but this weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, was a little sample of what summer will be like. So close…yet so far. Check out of the hotel, key in the ignition, over the bridge and up the Parkway back to life as usual…for a little while longer.
On Congress Hall’s Lawn at noon on the last Monday of May, the American Flag ascends up the flag pole. It was flying at half-mast all morning. Down on Gurney Street Beach, members of the Coast Guard along with Flotilla 8-2 of the Coast Guard Auxiliary present a Rifle Salute as they launch a flower boat into the surf. While the last Monday of May has become synonymous with “the unofficial start to summer,” it’s also the official day to remember those who have given their lives in serving the United States military. But where does this unofficial date on the Farmer’s Almanac take its roots as an official federal holiday?
It all began with an ending- that is the ending of the Civil War. The war claimed more lives on American soil than any other conflict, which then required the construction of National Cemeteries. In Waterloo New York, on May 5 each year beginning in 1866, members of the community would come together to decorate the graves of soldiers with flags and flowers. Two years later, General John Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a day of remembrance to take place nationwide later that month. Logan chose May 30th, and rumor has it that the date was chosen because it was the one day that was not the anniversary of a battle. It is also believed that this date was chosen in order to ensure that flowers would be in bloom across the country. He called it Decoration Day, and President Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where soldiers both Union and Confederate were buried.
Until World War I, most southern states held their own observances while Northern States celebrated May 30th. With a new war brought a new sense of unification, and Decoration Day was celebrated on throughout the country until 1968. It was that year that Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees, declaring the holiday a federal holiday. It was signed into effect in 1971, during the throes of the Vietnam War.
In Cape May, just like in other communities across the United States, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice will be remembered with parades, solemn ceremonies, and the flying of the flag at half-mast until noon. At three o’clock in the afternoon, a moment of remembrance (a tradition was made official in 2000). In Cape May, at 9am on Monday May 28, there will be a Memorial at the All Wars Monument. The City of Cape May in conjunction with the American Legion Harry Snyder Post 193 and VFW Post 386 will conduct a Memorial Day Ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. at Convention Hall. There will be wreath–laying ceremonies throughout the morning across Cape May County. As we enjoy the unofficial start to summer, let us all take a moment to remember those who died, ensuring that we would have the freedom to celebrate, eat hot dogs, go to the beach, and show our gratitude when the flowers are finally in bloom from sea to shining sea.