Today We Remember: The History of Memorial Day

Coming from a Navy family and being married to a Marine Corps veteran, Memorial Day will always hold a special place in my heart. So no matter what your plans are for observing the day, I thought I might share some history of the holiday that has since become our unofficial start to Summer.

World War II Memorial, Washington DC

Tracing it’s origins back to the years after the Civil War, Decoration Day (as it was known then) was a way for communities to gather together and honor their departed members. It was a day set aside to decorate graves of loved ones and remember their legacy and the sacrifices the made.

For decades the holiday was celebrated on May 30, a date selected by General John Logan in 1868 because it was not the anniversary of any battles. General John A. Logan was at that time a prominent advocate for Northern Civil War veterans, and the war was still fresh in the country’s mind.

In 1968 Congress passed a bill declaring Memorial Day to be the last Monday in May: making it a federal holiday and providing an opportunity for employees to enjoy a three day weekend. This went in to effect in 1971, and we as a country have been observing the holiday ever since.

Photo by Frank Glick

Worth noting, Memorial Day is distinct from Veteran’s Day (celebrated November 11) in that it celebrates the veterans who have since died. My experience is that most veterans find it offensive to be thanked for their service on a day meant to honor their fallen brothers and sisters.


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