Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971. But it has been around, in one form or another, since the mid-1860s.
Originally, the holiday was called Decoration Day. It was instituted in the years following the Civil War to honor those who gave their lives during that war. Survivors and family members would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Initially, there were separate Union and Confederate Decoration Days. After World War I, the holiday became one to honor those who had died in all of American’s wars. The use of the term “Memorial Day” did not become widely used until after World War II.
Today, Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service to our country. Falling annually on the last Monday in May, it has also come to mark the unofficial beginning of summer. Fire and police departments have more recently adopted the holiday as a time to honor their fallen as well. Memorial Day specifically honors those who have died, while Veteran’s Day (observed annually on November 11) honors all veterans, living and dead.
Modern observances of Memorial Day include American flags placed on the graves of fallen soldiers, a speech and wreath laying ceremony led by the President or Vice-President at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, flying U.S. flags at half-staff from dawn until noon, parades, picnics, BBQs, family gatherings, and sporting events (most notably the Indianapolis 500).
This year, as in every year, there are several public observations of the holiday in Washington, D.C. some of which will be televised nationally. These include services at the World War II and Air Force Memorials (each at 9 am), the wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (10 am), a ceremony at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (1 pm), the National Memorial Day Parade (2 pm), and the National Memorial Day Concert at the Capitol (8 pm).
With two wars still in progress and an insecure border, please join today in honoring the fallen men and women of the Army, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, police, and firefighters for their ultimate sacrifice to protect each of us.
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