Memorial Day in the U.S.

One of the key missions of the International Armed Forces Council is Remembrance of our veterans who sacrificed themselves in our names.  

Many aspects of this site, and the solemn rites performed at each Armed Forces Night are dedicated to preserving their memory and the common values and traditions they shared with us.   This page is intended to help visitors understand the history, significance and meaning of Memorial day.  The links above will take you to other pages dedicated to remembering our veterans.

Memorial Day or Decoration Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces.  The holiday, which is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May, was held on May 28, 2018. The holiday was held on May 30 from 1868 to 1970.  It marks the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end. 

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. 
Two other days celebrate those who serve or have served in the U.S. military: Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, and Armed Forces Day, a minor U.S. remembrance celebrated earlier in May, specifically honoring those currently serving in the U.S. military. 

The emergence and evolution of the Memorial Day holiday in the United States has been a highly controversial subject The practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers is an ancient custom Soldiers' graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. 

Some believe that an annual cemetery decoration practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the "memorial day" idea. Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are still held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like "dinner on the grounds," the traditional term for a potluck meal at a church. 

On June 3, 1861, Warrenton, Virginia was the location of the first Civil War soldier's grave ever to be decorated, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper article in 1906. In 1862, women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate soldiers' graves according to the Savannah Republican. The 1863 cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Some have therefore claimed that Lincoln was the founder of Memorial Day. On July 4, 1864, ladies decorated soldiers' graves according to local historians in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, yet the principal grave they claim to have decorated was of a man who was not dead yet.  Nonetheless, Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day. 

In April 1865, following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, commemorations were widespread. The more than 600,000 soldiers of both sides who died in the Civil War meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead. 
On May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina, recently freed African-Americans held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers, whose remains they had reburied from a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.  

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for "Decoration Day" to be observed annually and nationwide; he was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of and for Union Civil War veterans. This established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers, By the 20th century, various Union and Confederate memorial traditions, celebrated on different days, merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. With his proclamation, Logan had adopted the Memorial Day practice that had begun in the Southern states three years earlier. 

The first northern Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868. One author claims that the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. According to a White House address in 2010, the date was chosen as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom in the North. 

The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. In 1868, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states, and 336 in 1869. In 1871, Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. There was no standard program for the ceremonies, but they were typically sponsored by the Women's Relief Corps, the women's auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which had 100,000 members. 
Starting in 1868, the ceremonies and Memorial Day address at Gettysburg National Park became nationally known. 

In July 1913, veterans of the United States and Confederate armies gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of the Civil War's bloodiest and most famous battle. Since the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg occurred on November 19, that day (or the closest weekend) has been designated as their own local memorial day that is referred to as Remembrance Day.

In the national capital in 1913 the four-day "Blue-Gray Reunion" featured parades, re-enactments, and speeches from a host of dignitaries, including President Woodrow Wilson. 

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day," which was first used in 1882. Memorial Day did not become the more common name until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including 
Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress' change of date within a few years.

Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocated returning to the original date, although the significance of the date is tenuous. The VFW stated in 2002: 

        Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very
        meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's
        nonchalant observance of Memorial Day. 

In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember at 3:00 PM. On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. 

The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol. The concert is broadcast on PBS and NPR. Music is performed, and respect is paid to the men and women who gave their lives for their country. 

Across the United States, the central event is attending one of the thousands of parades held on Memorial Day in large and small cities. Most of these feature marching bands and an overall military theme with the Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard and Veteran service members participating along with military vehicles from various wars. 

In 1915, following the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, wrote the poem, "In Flanders Fields". Its opening lines refer to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers' graves in Flanders. 

In 1918, inspired by the poem, YWCA worker Moina Michael attended a YWCA Overseas War Secretaries' conference wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed over two dozen more to others present. In 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance.

In Flanders FieldsRemembrance DayVeterans DayMemorial Day U.S.