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Honoring the Fallen: The History of Memorial Day

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

A three-day weekend dedicated to barbecues, stars, stripes, and plenty of sunscreen – for most Americans, that is what defines Memorial Day weekend.

Outside of Patriotism and relaxation, what exactly is Memorial Day about? How is it different from Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day? How can we take time to properly observe this festive summer holiday?

Memorial Day

May 31st, and is celebrated with an extended weekend.

Memorial Day (originally ‘Decoration Day’) was established in the days following the end of the Civil War. The Civil War concluded in the Spring of 1865, and by the end approximately 620,000 military service members had fallen (nearly 504 deaths per day over the course of the 4 year long battle).

This large loss of life resulted in the construction of the first National Cemeteries. These National Cemeteries were initially built out of necessity to facilitate proper burials for the fallen Union Soldiers as lack of timely transportation and even identification was a challenge during the 1800s. These plots of sacred space allowed for fallen soldiers to have tidy, permanent and sacrosanct space to be laid to rest.

The first established National Cemetery was the Gettysburg National Cemetery, dedicated in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, during the delivery of the Gettysburg Address.

In the late 1860s, friends and family members of the fallen would travel to the location of their loved one, adorn with flowers and ribbons and other gentle tributes to ornament their resting site.

Setting in Arlington, with many graves decorated with gifts, ribbons, flags and flowers. Center-frame:  A woman dressed in white and a hat kneels above the resting place of a loved one who lost their lives while serving in the US military.
Decoration of Graves in Arlington, dated May 30th, 1929 (photo originated from the LOC)

Due to this act of ‘decoration”, the holiday was named “Decoration Day” and was observed during the anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Decoration Day was later coined “Memorial Day” and is further observed in honor, remembrance and mourning of those who have died while serving in the United States Military.

Beyond the fun and sun this weekend, take a moment to remember that Memorial Day is intended as a time to honor American Service Members who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving.

As awareness increases in our country, it is also important to remember those veterans who have died by suicide after returning home from war, from often unseen injuries.

How Can I Pay my Respects to Fallen Service Members this Memorial Day weekend?

We’ve compiled a short list of special ways to honor and remember those who have lost their lives to war:

· Look into local charity events that might host group efforts to help clean up local cemeteries and place decoration on service members resting places.

· Visit a Memorial site and learn about the dedication and history.

· Fly a flag at half-staff outside your home or workplace.

· Pause at 3pm for the National Moment of remembrance.

· Donate to organizations like Mission 22, The Gary Sinise Foundation, or local organizations dedicated to supporting Veteran families left behind after tragedy. We hope you have a safe Memorial Day weekend. To our Nation's Heroes: You are Forever Honored and Never Forgotten. Thank you.

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