Here’s a little history about this day of remembrance and reflection.
Memorial Day grew out of commemorations of the Civil War. Graves of those lost in the War Between the States were decorated with flowers and flags as early as 1861 in Virginia, caught on in Georgia in 1862, and in Pennsylvania in 1863, shortly after the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg.
However, legend says that the idea of setting aside a day to remember those who died in the war originated in Waterloo, New York, in 1866. It’s not true, but that was cited in the official proclamation signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 recognizing the town as the birthplace of the holiday 100 years prior.
For decades after the Civil War, Memorial Day was “Decoration Day,” and it started in the former Confederate states. In the South, different major cemeteries where large numbers of Confederate soldiers were buried observed their own various, individual Decoration Days.
In 1868, the Union Army veteran organization called the Grand Army of the Republic created the holiday as a day to continue the tradition of placing flowers on the graves of those who died fighting for the North in the Civil War. The organization’s leader, John A. Logan called for a national, annual observance of Decoration Day on May 30. That date was picked because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle, making it a neutral date for the North and the South.
On the first Decoration Day of May 30, 1868, events were held at more than 180. Just two years later, memorial observances commenced at more than 330.
By 1882, some states and organizations were using the more specific and inclusive term “Memorial Day” instead of “Decoration Day,” but the new name wasn’t common until after World War II. The name was officially changed to Memorial Day by the federal government in 1967.
Memorial Day was always celebrated on May 30, regardless of the day of the week it fell on, until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It moved some holidays from specific dates to nearby Mondays to create three-day weekends. Along with Washington’s Birthday moving from February 22 to the third Monday in February and Columbus Day from October 12 to the second Monday in October, Memorial Day became a permanent fixture on the last Monday in May. (The late Hawaiian senator and World War II veteran Daniel Inouye routinely introduced legislation to move Memorial Day back to May 30, but he was never successful.)
National Moment of Remembrance
As of 2000, there’s a National Moment of Remembrance. On Memorial Day at 3:00 p.m., Americans are encouraged to stop, be quiet, and think about the sacrifice of veterans.
Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day
What’s the difference between Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November? Memorial Day honors those who died during military service. Veterans Day recognizes the service of all U.S. servicemen and women, living and deceased.