Americans are fiercely loyal to our folks in the military and veterans, so Memorial Day is one of the most widely-celebrated federal holidays of the year. Here are some facts about the tradition of Memorial Day in the United States:
1. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, established “Decoration Day” − which would later become Memorial Day − as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
2. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
3. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
4. The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies.
5. By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation.
6. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day in some places. It was slated to be held on the last Monday in May at that time as well.
7. Many southern states have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day on Jan. 19.
8. The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people.
9. To ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance.
10. The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause on Memorial Day − wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time − for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense