The 30th of May was originally chosen as Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it was then called) because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. However, on 28 June 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30th date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress’ change of date within a few years.
Many, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), posit that moving the date to a Monday made it all the easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. According to the VFW, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.” Thus, both the VFW and SUVCW advocate returning to the original date.
Beginning in 1987 Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date. Inouye continued introducing the resolution every Congress until his death in 2012. In his introductory remarks to the bill he introduced in 1999 he stated:
“Mr. President, in our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer. My bill would restore Memorial Day to May 30 and authorize our flag to fly at half mast on that day. In addition, this legislation would authorize the President to issue a proclamation designating Memorial Day and Veterans Day as days for prayer and ceremonies honoring American veterans. This legislation would help restore the recognition our veterans deserve for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our nation.” (1999 Congressional Record, page S621)
Senator Hanabusa later continued Mr. Inouye’s campaign to restore Memorial Day. More recently, the Maine Living History Association has begun advocating for this return through a program called “Our Honored Dead.” Beginning on 30 May 2015 and continuing each May 30th thereafter, Maine’s Civil War monuments and veteran memorials will be lit. The Maine Living History Association aims to make May 30th a state holiday by 2018.
Please consider joining us in advocating a restoration of the traditional day of observance for Memorial Day, and support making Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday of May) a three-day holiday in its place.