Nine Interesting Facts about Memorial Day

According to my Google calendar Memorial Day weekend is just a few weeks away (although you’d never know it from the cold, rainy weather here in New England). This unofficial start of summer has become synonymous with barbeques (or cookouts if you’re in Massachusetts) and beach parties. Of course, Memorial Day has a much deeper significance, with its true purpose to honor the men and women who died serving in the U.S. military.

While I’ve been to my share of Memorial Day parades (and cookouts), I didn’t know much about the origin of the holiday. For anyone else curious about this holiday, here are nine facts about Memorial Day.

  • General John A. Logan called for a national day of remembrance in 1862 to honor fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. He chose May 30th for the occasion, because no battles occurred on that date.
  • Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, because it was a day to decorate soldiers’ graves with flags, wreaths, and flowers.
  • The first Decoration Day event* was held in Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated 20,000 Union and Confederate graves.                                                                                                                                                                                 * (Somewhat) interesting side note: Future President and my (distant) cousin General James Garfield presided over the ceremony.
  • Until WWI, Memorial Day only honored military personnel lost in the Civil War. After WWI, all U.S. conflicts were included in the remembrance.
  • The Memorial Day observance was moved to a Monday holiday in 1968 as part of the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act.” The change gave federal employees a three-day weekend.
  • Nine states still set aside a separate day to honor soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy.
  • On the Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small American Flags on all 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • A federal law (passed in 2000) requires all Americans to pause on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm local time to remember the fallen.
  • Some veterans would like to move Memorial Day back to May 30th to separate the tribute from the “unofficial start of summer.”

Thank you to the troops and their families who sacrifice so much for the rest of us. Happy Memorial Day everyone.


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