Summary: I would propose to you that it is not important who was the very first to celebrate "Memorial Day". What is important is that Memorial Day was established.
A Day for Remembrance
Remembering Those Who Died For Our Freedom
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of "Memorial Day." There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. A hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet was a dedication, "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920; Cilla McCain’s Blog).
I would propose to you that it is not important who was the very first to celebrate "Memorial Day". What is important is that Memorial Day was established. "Memorial Day" is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.
What do we know about "Memorial Day" is it was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the Northern states. It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday of May. In 1915, Moina Michael wrote a poem "In Flanders Fields," She wrote, "We Cherish too, the Poppy Red… That grows on fields where valor led… It seems to signal to the skies… that blood of heroes never die.”
Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans today have forgotten the meaning and traditions of "Memorial Day." At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored and neglected.
There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 1950's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. According to an article written by Chris Kolakowski, “The 3rd U.S. Infantry, known as the Old Guard is the oldest regiment in the Regular United States Army.” The 3rd U.S Infantry also has the deployment to stand watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, twenty-four-seven in all kinds of weather.
In a message spoken by President George W. Bush on May 26th 2003 at Arlington National Cemetery he said, “Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly, because we have known the costs of war. And the war on terror we're fighting today has brought great costs of its own. Since the hour this nation was attacked, we have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country's uniform as they fought battles to achieve victories. These veterans of battle will carry with them for all their days the memory of the ones who did not live to be called veterans.”
May we remember young soldiers like Captain Joshua Byers, a West Point man born in South Carolina who died in Iraq. When this son of missionaries was given command of a 120-man combat unit, he wrote this to his parents: 'I will give the men everything I have to give. I love them already, just because they're mine. I pray, with all my heart, that I will be able to take every single one of them home safe when we finish our mission here.'"
Those who risked their lives on our behalf are often very clear about what matters most in their own lives, and they tell it to those they love. Listen to these words written by Master Sergeant Kelly Hornbeck, of the Special Forces, who was killed in action in south Samarra. He wrote this to his parents back in Fort Worth, Texas: "I am not afraid, and neither should either of you be -- For I trust in my God and my training, two powerful forces that cannot be fully measured."
President George Bush said, “Although the burden of grief cannot not be easily done away with and the sadness over an unfinished life easily laid aside, it must be understood that completeness of a life is not measured in length only. It is measured in the deeds and commitments that give a life its purpose. And the commitment of these lives was clear to all: They defended our nation, they liberated the oppressed, they served the cause of peace. All Americans who have known the loss and sadness of war, whether recently or long ago, can know this: The person they love and miss is honored and remembered by the United States of America.”