Memorial Day

The last Monday in May***

This patriotic day, sometimes called Decoration Day, honors Americans who gave their lives for their country.

History and Old Observance

Originally it honored military personnel who died in the Civil War. It now also honors the dead of all wars.

Several communities claim to have originated M-Day, but in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Waterloo, New York, the birthplace of the holiday.

May 5, 1866 drugstore owner Henry Welles suggested that all shops in this town close for one day to honor the soldiers killed in the Civil War.

1868 Major General John A. Logan (Retired) issued an order designating May 30 as one in which the graves of the Union soldiers would be decorated, a so called Decoration Day. The Welles and Logan ceremonies were joined, and Logan served as Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War.

1882 the name changed to M-Day, and soldiers who had died in previous wars were honored as well. In the northern USA, it was designated as a federal public holiday. The southern states commemorated their war deads on different days.

After World War I, the American Legion took over the duty of the celebrations from the Grand Army of the Republic.

1971 President Richard Nixon declared it a federal public holiday on the last Monday in May.

Modern Observance

It’s a federal public holiday in most states.

*** Most northern states and some Southern States observe it on the last Mon. in May.

** Since the end of World War I M-Day has also been Poppy Day. These red bright wildflowers became a symbol of WW I after a bloody battle in a field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium. Veterans of military service have organized support groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On V-Day and Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable activities by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans.

People place flowers and flags on the graves of military personnel. Military parades and programs, including the reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Addressare are held, especially at Gettysburg National Military Park and at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Arlington is the nation’s largest national cemetery. Not only are members of the armed forces buried here; astronauts, explorers and other distinguished Americans have all been honored with a special place. Some communities hold parades and others hold memorial services or special programs in churches, schools or other public meeting places.

Its also a day for personal remembrance. To many Americans it signals the beginning of summer.