Memorial Day, also known as Decoration Day, is a US federal holiday established to mourn, honor, and remember American military personnel who died while serving in the United States armed forces.  It is observed on the last Monday of May.  It also unofficially marks the beginning of summer in the US.

Initially the day started as a time to decorate the graves of southern soldiers lost in the Civil War.  It was eventually adopted by every northern state as well.  The World Wars turned it into a generalized day of remembrance.  Several states have laid claim to originating the holiday:

Southern claims:

Warrenton, VA

June 3, 1861, Warrenton, VA was the location of the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever to be decorated of the first soldier killed in action during the Civil War, on June 1, 1861, during the Battle of Fairfax Courthouse.

Savannah, GA

July 1862, women in Savannah, GA decorated the graves at Laurel Grove Cemetary of those who died at the Battle of Manassas (First Battle of Bull Run) one year earlier.

Jackson, MS

April 26, 1865 in Jackson, MS Sue Landon Vaughan supposedly decorated the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, though other references cite that this event did not occur until some years later.

Charleston, SC

May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC, recently freed African-Americans held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 dead Union soldiers who were being re-buried from a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.

Columbus, GA

March 1866, the US National Park Service attributes the beginning of a Memorial Day practice to a group of women in Columbus, GA who wrote a letter to the press encourage the establishment of an annual holiday to decorate the graves of soldiers throughout the south.

Columbus, MS

April 1866, a year after the war’s end, four women of Columbus decorated the graves not only of Confederate soldiers, but also of Union soldiers buried there.  Their gesture of compassion, humanity, and reconciliation is often cited as the inspiration of the original Memorial Day.

Northern claims:

Gettysburg, PA

1863 marked the Gettysburg, PA cemetery dedication, including a ceremony to commemorate the graves of dead soldiers.  While some thus claim Abraham Lincoln was the founder of Memorial Day, Lincoln’s funeral 2 years later was the primary impetus to decorate soldiers’ graves.

National Decoration Day

May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Civil War veterans, issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide.  This adopted the Memorial Day practice that had begun 3 years earlier in the South, and rapidly expanded it throughout the North.

Two other days celebrate the US military:

Armed Forces Day, celebrated the third Saturday in May, honoring those currently actively serving in the US military.

Veterans Day, also known as Armistice Day, celebrated the Allied Forces signing the armistice with Germany ending the major hostilities of World War 1 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and continues to be celebrated on November 11th, to honor all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

The playlist is a combination of traditional patriotic songs, including “America (My Country Tis Of Thee),” “America The Beautiful,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “God Bless America,” and the various military branch songs, among others.

Ray Charles, truly a national treasure, here signing his version beyond compare of “America The Beautiful”:

And perhaps no one can ever top this voice, this range, in this rendition of “The National Anthem” by Whitney Houston:

Also included are more contemporary songs about America, soldiers, and patriotism.  Many are country songs, as the genre tends to attract more conservative, traditional, patriotic artists and listeners.  Not surprisingly to any country music fan, Toby Keith appears on the list tied for the most often, with 5 offerings: “Made in America,” “American Ride,” “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” “Happy Birthday America,” and “American Soldier”:

Other notable songs include the Chick’s “Travelin’ Soldier,” Brad Paisley’s “American Saturday Night,” Charlie Daniels “In America,” Johnny Cash “Ragged Old Flag,” Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Moving)”:

and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA,” and “Proud To Be An American”:

And pop offerings about America include Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”:

Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Lenny Kravitz’ “American Woman,” James Brown’s “Living in America” – leave it up to the prince of funk to be so glitzy and over-the-top in Rocky IV:

Neil Diamond’ “America,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” and “American Tune,” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “An American Dream.”  John Mellencamp is the artist tied with Toby Keith for appearing most often on the playlist, with “R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.”, “Our Country,” “Jack & Diane,” “Small Town,” and “Pink Houses” (“Aint that America…”):

So many great songs, with so many more about our great country.

My hope is that you might let this playlist cycle in the background at your Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day celebrations, not only to enjoy some great music, but to honor and remember those who have fought for our freedom and safety in this great country we live in, which we so often take for granted or even malign for all its problems, not celebrating and appreciating all that is good in this land that we live in.  Sure, we need to work toward fixing our warts and problems, but we need not lose sight of the forest for the trees. 

We have much to be proud of and thankful for in this land where our forefathers sought refuge from oppression or poverty, looking for new opportunities, a new life.  We have grown into a nation where many we have the privilege to choose our own direction, speak out freely, travel unrestricted, and create our own life.  While there are those who still struggle to see such an American Dream, often through the misfortune of being raised in poverty and perhaps ignorance and lack of opportunity.  We need to continue to work toward raising our brothers and sisters up, and continuing to evolve as a country where anything is possible, which was the dream and vision of our forefathers.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Thomas jefferson, declaration of independence, July 1776

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883

Enjoy the playlist!

I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew.  Rediscover the passion of music in your life.

Live in the moment.

Enjoy the moment.

Love the moment.

Listen to the MUSIC!