What Memorial Day weekend is really about

Why do we recognize Memorial Day?

DETROIT – Memorial Day weekend is the “unofficial” start of the season, and many families will gather for picnics and barbecues. All of those flowers that got bought up at Eastern Market’s Flower Day get planted. Boats go in the water. Pools open up. It’s sum-sum-summer time!

Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s celebration. I love summer fun as much as the next guy. But that’s not what Memorial Day is supposed to be about.

On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, General John Logan, the head of an organization for Union veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance for all of the soldiers who died in defense of their country -- 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War (Union and Confederate armies combined).

The day was called Decoration Day to be observed on May 30 with Americans encouraged to decorate the gravesites of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. Over the decades, the preferred name changed to Memorial Day, which became an official federal holiday in 1971 and is now recognized on the last Monday in May.

For those who are true to the traditions of the day, flags should be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day. All Americans are encouraged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time. It’s likely that very few people will participate in these antiquated and little known rituals. And that’s OK. But, I think it’s important to remember that for many families who grieve for lost loved ones who died in military service, this is a very solemn weekend.

For those of us whose lives and families have not been so profoundly and painfully changed, we can, at least, spend a few minutes remembering those thousands of brave Americans who lost their lives in defense of freedoms that we so often take for granted.

So, enjoy your time off this Memorial Day weekend. But, never forget the true meaning of the day.