Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May. All Americans must stand united to honor and pay tribute to the brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States of America. This solemn day of remembrance recognizes the selfless service of those who had the courage to give their lives for the cause of freedom. 


The Birthplace of Memorial Day and Early Observances 

The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities were holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

It is unclear where this tradition originated; one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.

In 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo—which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

Its Beginning as Decoration Day

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.

Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor the dead-on separate days until after World War I.

The History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was started by an organization of Union Civil War veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic. These veterans lobbied state and local governments across the former union to recognize May 30 as a day of remembrance. They chose May 30 because no battles happened on that day. For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date selected by General Logan.

By 1968, all of the Civil War vets had passed, and Memorial Day commemorated the fallen veterans of all eras. That same year, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law declared Memorial Day a federal holiday. The holiday evolved to include all American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Memorial Day Traditions and Rituals 

Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war—a tradition that began with a World War I poem. On a less somber note, many people take weekend trips or hold family gatherings, perhaps because Memorial Day weekend—the long weekend comprising the Saturday and Sunday before the Holiday itself—unofficially marks the beginning of summer.


There are certain traditions that happen every Memorial Day. Even if you aren’t planting flags at a cemetery or you don’t know anyone who fell in service to their country, there are still things you can learn, observe and teach to others.

1. The National Moment of Remembrance

Every Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time, whether you’re at home, at a parade or in the middle of a speech, please take a moment to observe the National Moment of Remembrance. For one full minute, Americans everywhere should pause to remember all the men and women who died in service to our country.

2. It’s Not Veterans Day

Memorial Day is about honoring the fallen men and women who died in service to their country — not just anyone. Most veterans will not expect to be thanked for their service, but this is especially true on Memorial Day.

3. When to Raise and Lower the Flag

The rules for where and when the American flag is raised and lowered are different for Memorial Day. We may collectively remember to render proper salutes while the flag is being raised and lowered. We might even remember to raise the flag “briskly” and lower it slowly and ceremoniously. But if you’re the emcee of a Memorial Day event, you should be sure to observe the proper timing for where Old Glory should be throughout the day.

The Stars and Stripes should be raised briskly first thing in the morning. But on Memorial Day, the flag is raised only to half-staff (here are directions for how to properly raise a flag at half-staff). At noon, the flag should be raised to full-staff until it’s taken down at sunset. Memorial Day is the only day that observes both positions on the flagpole. If you fly a flag from the porch of your house and can’t lower it, simply attach a black mourning streamer to the top for when it’s supposed to be lowered.

4. Memorial Day is the Last Monday in May

On Memorial Day, honor the brave men and women who have served our country. Their sacrifice allows us to celebrate the freedoms we hold dear. Thanks to your generous donations charities like Honor Flight can support our beloved Veterans and those who serve our country.

Multiple sources, including the Author, and excerpts from,, and others

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