Decoration Day or Memorial Day?

Published 6:51 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

By Thomas W. Mastaglio

Guest columnist

If you recognize Decoration Day as the one-time name of the upcoming holiday, then I can probably guess your age or at least generation. It is mine also.


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I recall, when I was a youngster, adults calling the 30th of May Decoration Day; later it became known as Memorial Day.  And then the date for Memorial Day was changed to the last Monday of May, to accommodate the desire to make most holidays three-day weekends. This year we get to have it on a Monday and on the traditional date.

Decoration Day was recognized shortly after the Civil War in 1868 as a day on which family and friends “decorated” the graves of Union veterans (probably celebrated in the South as well) with flowers and flags. A common slogan was “they gave their all” — still appropriate today for acknowledging Memorial Day.

The holiday began being referred to as Memorial Day after the World Wars, but surprisingly it was not designated a national holiday until 1971. I also remember others misunderstanding its purpose. They would say it was to memorialize any relative or friend who has passed by flowering their gravesite. I also in recent years have had family members thank me for my service in the armed forces in recognition of Memorial Day. There are holidays to do that: Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day, which, incidentally, is traditionally celebrated on the third Saturday of May.

Simply, Memorial Day, this year on Monday, May 30, is set aside to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the U.S. in our armed forces. While many view Memorial Day as the start of the summer and an opportunity for gathering family and friends to picnic and relax, I encourage each of you to take the time to reflect on those service members who have given their lives and their families who lost loved ones.

Locally Suffolk and Smithfield both hold Memorial Day services. However, if you cannot attend these and want to find a venue for such reflection, the flags on every grave at the Horton Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk or those on graves of veterans, dating back to Revolutionary War days, at Benn’s Church Cemetery in Smithfield will provide you a somber venue should you visit them this coming weekend.

So please, have a nice Memorial Day, take time to honor our lost servicemen and women and enjoy nice summer weather on this holiday. But please don’t “wish” me, or anyone else, a “Happy Memorial Day.” It is a time for reflection and honoring the fallen, not celebration.

Thomas W. Mastaglio is media and publicity coordinator for American Legion Post 49 in Smithfield. His email address is