Each year in the United States, Americans observe the Federal holiday, Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. It honors and remembers all men and women who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Memorial Day is also a day to remember all loved ones who have passed away.
Traditionally on Memorial Day, the flag of the United States of America is raised briskly to the top of the staff then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position where it remains until noon. At noon, it is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
When the flag is at half-staff, the position is in remembrance of the more than one million men and women who gave their lives for their country. Raising the flag at noon signifies the nation lives, that the country is resolved not to let their sacrifice be in vain but to rise up in their honor and continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.
In the United States, Memorial Day also traditionally marks the beginning of summer.
HOW TO OBSERVE Memorial Day
Attend Memorial Day services in your community. In your own way, pay tribute in remembrance of service members who have died while serving. Visit a veterans’ cemetery to honor those who’ve impacted your life. Use #MemorialDay to post on social media.
MEMORIAL DAY HISTORY
Honoring the men and women who have died while serving in the military, communities, individuals, and organizations have kept Memorial Day in various forms in the United States since the end of the Civil War. General John Logan first called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 5, 1868. The observance was called Decoration Day, and it was observed on May 30th, 1868.
General James Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery with Generals Grant, Howard, Logan, Pane, Wool, and Hancock in attendance. Volunteers also decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
Across the country, humble tributes occurred on that first Decoration Day. Just outside Fort Stevens near Washington, D.C., there was a small cemetery where 40 soldiers were buried, one of whom belonged to a widow from Northern Vermont. He was one of three sons she lost to the war. On Decoration Day, she went to the cemetery carrying 40 wreaths for 40 graves.
Someone placed a laurel wreath upon the head of a Lincoln statue at City Hall, Washington, D.C.
In Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroads transported passengers to the Spring Grove Cemetery. As a tribute, communities displayed flags at half-mast along the routes. More volunteers placed floral wreaths on the soldiers’ graves, and speeches were made. Many of the first Decoration Days recognized only the Union soldiers. However, other events included the Confederate soldiers as well. Over time, the day grew to include all those soldiers lost during the conflict.
Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day and now honors all U.S. service members who have died during a military conflict. Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30th for many years. Then, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed the last Monday of May.