Harrison County

A Memorial Day tradition that dates back more than a century

Antonio Davis, dressed in camo, places flags on the graves at the Biloxi National Cemetery, Saturday, May 27, 2017.
Antonio Davis, dressed in camo, places flags on the graves at the Biloxi National Cemetery, Saturday, May 27, 2017. ttisbell@sunherald.com

It took less than an hour for more than 17,000 flags to be placed at the more than 17,000 graves at the Biloxi National Cemetery on Saturday in preparation for Memorial Day.

Alessandro Ravera flew down to the Coast from Baltimore, Maryland, to participate in the event. This was his second year of decorating the graves in Biloxi.

It was the first time Katie and John Loeffler participated in the event. The couple said they were impressed by how many people turned out to the cemetery and how fast the graves were decorated.

The tradition is held at national cemeteries nationwide and dates to the post-Civil War era.

It started in Columbus, Mississippi, on April 25, 1866, when the women of Columbus went to local cemeteries and laid flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, according to the National Park Service. Other small towns in the South began holding similar observances.

The rest of the nation embraced the holiday, which Northerners called “Decoration Day,” two years later. It began when a large organization for Union Civil War veterans called for the day to be observed annually and nationwide by placing flowers at the headstones of Union soldiers who fought and died in the war. It was observed for the first time that year on Saturday, May 30.

The preferred name for the holiday gradually shifted to “Memorial Day” but that title did not become federal law until 1967. A year later, Congress moved the holiday to the last Monday in May, though the practice of decorating headstones with flowers or patriotic symbols still takes place on Saturday in many places.

Wesley Muller: 228-896-2322, @WesleySMuller

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