“If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
— President Ronald Reagan
As we celebrated this Memorial Day weekend, many of us enjoyed some time off, maybe a cookout or trip to the beach or just a relaxing day at home. But how many of us took time to celebrate what Memorial Day is truly about?
On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
May 30 was chosen as the day for Decoration Day because flowers would be in bloom all over the country at that time and what would become known as Memorial Day was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. It initially was observed by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
During that first celebration, Gen. James A. Garfield, a future president, made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which about 5,000 participants helped decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday and at 3 p.m. local time, Americans were encouraged to pause for a moment of silence or listen to “Taps.”
Red poppies are recognized as the Memorial Day flower and in 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” University of Georgia professor Moina Michael, who lived in Walton County, wrote her own poem:
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 dies.
Michael conceived the idea of covering World War I battlefields with red poppies and the Georgia General Assembly later named Highway 78 as the Moina Michael Highway in her honor.
Just as we sometimes forget the true meaning of Memorial Day, we often forget that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and a strong faith in God.
Recognizing this, the Georgia General Assembly, in the recently completed session, passed Senate Bill 293, requiring that all license plates, upon request, display the nation’s motto “In God We Trust.”
This makes Georgia one of only 16 states that incorporate “In God We Trust” onto their license plates.
When Francis Scott Key wrote what would eventually become the American national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” during the war of 1812, he wrote in the final stanza:
“And this be our motto: ’In God is our trust.’
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Later the words were shortened to “In God We Trust” and in 1956, Congress passed a joint resolution to certify the nation’s motto as “In God We Trust.” The resolution was signed into law on July 30, 1956, by President Eisenhower and first used on paper money in 1957 when it was added to the $1 silver certificate. By 1966, “In God We Trust” as added to all paper money, from $1 to $100 denominations.
Brazil is the only other nation in the world that legally requires its currency to signify God or faith. Its currency reads “God be Praised.”
License plates are not the only place that our national motto is used in Georgia. When our new state flag was created in 2003, it featured a square blue canton in the upper left hand corner. In the center of the canton is a circle of 13 white stars, symbolizing Georgia and the other 12 original states that formed the United States of America. Within the circle of stars is Georgia’s coat of arms immediately above the words “In God We Trust.”
Whether it be on license plates or on our state flag, the General Assembly has recognized the importance of our national motto and the principles from which our state and nation were founded.
In Georgia, as we fly our state flag and drive our cars, let us always remember that “In God We Trust.”
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109