Recalling Memorial Day through coins and medals
- Published: May 28, 2018, 3 AM
During the Civil War, citizens on both sides of the conflict began recognizing fallen solders killed in that conflict’s many battles by decorating their graves with flowers and flags.
More formal practices began in 1868, when a Union general, John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, founded Decoration Day as a nationwide event for the North, marked by decorating the graves of the dead. Similar celebrations were held in the South after the war.
It was not until the 20th century that the various memorial events celebrated in the North and South, occurring on different dates, were merged as a nationwide Memorial Day. Until 1970, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, no matter when the day fell within the week. Since 1970, the date has been a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May.
Numismatically, numerous coins and medals recognize the ultimate sacrifice of the men and women serving in the nation’s military services. The U.S. Mint has struck numerous coins and medals commemorating the contributions of veterans, the most recent being this year’s silver dollar and medals honoring those who served in the U.S. military during World War I a century ago.
Perhaps no coin better captures the true meaning of Memorial Day than the 1994 Vietnam Veterans Memorial commemorative silver dollar, designed by John Mercanti and Thomas D. Rogers Sr.
The obverse of the coin by Mercanti shows a hand reaching out toward a small portion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the monument that has been one of the most-visited sites in Washington, D.C., since it was dedicated in 1984. In the background, the Washington Monument rises into the sky.
The reverse, designed by Rogers, shows three military medals.
On this Memorial Day, we should all take time to remember those who have died in service to the nation, and to reflect their ultimate contributions to our freedoms.
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