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Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) is a
federal holiday in the United States In the United States, a federal holiday is a calendar date that is recognized and designated by the federal government of the United States as a holiday. Every year on a U.S. federal holiday, non-essential federal government offices are closed, ...
for mourning the U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the
United States armed forces The United States Armed Forces are the Military, military forces of the United States of America. The armed forces consists of six Military branch, service branches: the United States Army, Army, United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps, Uni ...

United States armed forces
. It is observed on the last Monday of May. It was formerly observed on May 30 from 1868 to 1970. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Many volunteers place an American flag on graves of military personnel in
national cemeteries The following is a partial list of prominent National Cemeteries: Africa Algeria *El Alia Cemetery, Algiers Liberia * Palm Grove Cemetery, Monrovia (former) Zimbabwe * National Heroes Acre (Zimbabwe), National Heroes Acre, Harare Asia Ch ...
. Memorial Day is also considered the unofficial beginning of
summer Summer is the hottest of the four temperate In geography, the temperate climates of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. About 29% of Earth's surface is land ...

summer
in the United States. Many cities and people have claimed to have first celebrated the event. In 1868, General
John A. Logan John Alexander Logan (February 9, 1826 – December 26, 1886) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of A ...

John A. Logan
of the
Grand Army of the Republic The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army , a regiment serving in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, Western Theater. File:GeorgeMcClellan1861a.jpg, 200px, left, ...

Grand Army of the Republic
called for a "Decoration Day", which was widely celebrated. By 1890, every Northern state had adopted it as a holiday. The World Wars turned it into a generalized day of remembrance, instead of just for the Civil War. In 1971, Congress standardized the holiday as "Memorial Day" and changed its observance to the last Monday in May. Two other days celebrate those who have served or are serving in the U.S. military:
Armed Forces Day Many nations around the world observe some kind of Armed Forces Day to honor their military A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is typica ...

Armed Forces Day
(which is earlier in May), an unofficial U.S. holiday for honoring those currently serving in the armed forces, and
Veterans Day Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is a federal holiday in the United States observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans, who are people who have served in the United States Armed Forces The United State ...
(on November 11), which honors those who have served in the
United States Armed Forces The United States Armed Forces are the Military, military forces of the United States of America. The armed forces consists of six Military branch, service branches: the United States Army, Army, United States Marine Corps, Marine Corps, Uni ...

United States Armed Forces
.


Claimed origins

The history of Memorial Day in the United States is complex. The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs recognizes that approximately 25 places claim to have originated the holiday. At Columbus eorgiaState University there is a Center for Memorial Day Research, and the
University of Mississippi The University of Mississippi, byname Ole Miss, is a Public university, public research university adjacent to Oxford, Mississippi. Including University of Mississippi Medical Center, its medical center in Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson, the Univ ...
incorporates a Center for Civil War Research that has also led research into Memorial Day's origins. 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 The American Civil War (also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865, fought between northern U.S. state, states loyal to the Union (American Civil War), Union and sout ...
. Many of the origination claims are myths, unsupported by evidence, while others are one-time cemetery dedications or funeral tributes. In 2014, one scholarly effort attempted to separate the myths and one-time events from the activities that actually led to the establishment of the federal holiday.


Precedents in the South

According to the
United States Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a curated collection of sources of information and similar resources, made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provides physical or electronic ...
website, "Southern women decorated the graves of soldiers even before the Civil War’s end. Records show that by 1865, Mississippi, Virginia, and South Carolina all had precedents for Memorial Day." The earliest Southern Memorial Day celebrations were simple, somber occasions for veterans and their families to honor the dead and tend to local cemeteries. In following years, the
Ladies' Memorial Association A Ladies' Memorial Association (LMA) is a type of organization for women that sprang up all over the Southern United States, American South in the years after the American Civil War. Typically, these were organizations by and for women, whose goal ...
and other groups increasingly focused rituals on preserving Confederate Culture and the
Lost Cause of the Confederacy around a Confederate monument in Lakeland, Florida, 1915 The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply the Lost Cause, is an History of the United States, American pseudo-historical, negationist ideology that advocates the belief that the ca ...
narrative.


Warrenton, Virginia

On June 3, 1861,
Warrenton, Virginia Warrenton is a town in and the county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or Parish (administrative division), civil parish. The term is used in Canada, China, Romania, Hungary and the U ...
, 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. This decoration was for the funeral of the first soldier killed in action during the Civil War,
John Quincy Marr John Quincy Marr (May 27, 1825 – June 1, 1861) was a Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, Southeastern ...

John Quincy Marr
, who died on June 1, 1861, during a skirmish at Battle of Fairfax Courthouse in Virginia.


Savannah, Georgia

In July 1862, women in
Savannah, Georgia Savannah ( ) is the oldest city in the U.S. state of Georgia Georgia usually refers to: * Georgia (country), a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia * Georgia (U.S. state), one of the states of the United States of America Georgia may al ...
, decorated the graves at Laurel Grove Cemetery of Colonel and his comrades who died at Battle of Manassas (
First Battle of Bull Run The First Battle of Bull Run (the name used by Union forces), also known as the Battle of First Manassas
) the year before.


Jackson, Mississippi

On April 26, 1865, in
Jackson, Mississippi Jackson, officially the City of Jackson, is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ' ...
,
Sue Landon Vaughan Sue Landon Vaughan (October 12, 1835 – July 22, 1911) was an American artist and writer best known for falsely claiming to have originated the Memorial Day holiday. Personal life Born Susan Hutchinson Adams in Missouri in 1835, the daugh ...

Sue Landon Vaughan
supposedly decorated the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers. However, the earliest recorded reference to this event did not appear until many years after. Regardless, mention of the observance is inscribed on the southeast panel of the Confederate Monument in Jackson, erected in 1891.


Charleston, South Carolina

On May 1, 1865, in
Charleston, South Carolina Charleston is the largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, South Carolina, Charleston County, and the principal city in the Charleston metropolitan area, South Carolina, Charleston–North Charle ...

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. Historian David W. Blight cites contemporary news reports of this incident in the ''Charleston Daily Courier'' and the ''
New-York Tribune The ''New-York Tribune'' was an American newspaper, first established in 1841 by editor Horace Greeley. Between 1842 and 1866, the newspaper bore the name ''New-York Daily Tribune.'' From the 1840s through the 1860s it was the dominant Whig Party ...
.'' Although Blight claimed that "African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina", in 2012, he stated in the New York Times article that he "has no evidence" that the event in Charleston effectively led to General Logan’s call for the national holiday. Blight said, "I’m much more interested in the meaning that’s being conveyed in that incredible ritual than who’s first.”


Columbus, Georgia

The
United States National Park Service The National Park Service (NPS) is an List of federal agencies in the United States, agency of the federal government of the United States that manages all List of areas in the United States National Park System, national parks, many National mon ...
National Park Service, "Flowers For Jennie"
Retrieved February 24, 2015
and numerous scholars attribute the beginning of a Memorial Day practice in the South to a group of women of Columbus, Georgia. The women were the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus. They were represented by
Mary Ann Williams Mary Ann Williams (also known as Mrs. Charles J. Williams) (10 August 1821 – 15 April 1874) was an American woman who was the first proponent for Memorial Day, an annual holiday to decorate soldiers’ graves. Antebellum years Mary Ann Howard ...

Mary Ann Williams
(Mrs. Charles J. Williams) who, as Secretary, wrote a letter to press in March 1866 asking their assistance in establishing annual holiday to decorate the graves of soldiers throughout the south. The letter was reprinted in several southern states and the plans were noted in newspapers in the north. The date of April 26 was chosen. The holiday was observed in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, Columbus and elsewhere in Georgia as well as Montgomery, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi, and across the south. In some cities, mostly in Virginia, other dates in May and June were observed. General John A. Logan commented on the observances in a speech to veterans on July 4, 1866, in Salem, Illinois. After General Logan's General Order No. 11 to the Grand Army of the Republic to observe May 30, 1868, the earlier version of the holiday began to be referred to as
Confederate Memorial Day Confederate Memorial Day (called Confederate Heroes Day in Texas Texas (, ) is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. It is the second largest U.S. state by both List of U.S. states and ter ...
.


Columbus, Mississippi

A year after the war's end, in April 1866, four women of Columbus gathered together to decorate the graves of the Confederate soldiers. They also felt moved to honor the Union soldiers buried there, and to note the grief of their families, by decorating their graves as well. The story of their gesture of humanity and reconciliation is held by some writers as the inspiration of the original Memorial Day despite its occurring last among the claimed inspirations.


Precedents in the North


Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The 1863 cemetery dedication at
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Gettysburg (; non-locally ) is a borough (Pennsylvania), borough and the county seat of Adams County, Pennsylvania, Adams County in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg (1863) and President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address ...
, included a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Some have therefore claimed that President
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of governme ...

Abraham Lincoln
was the founder of Memorial Day. However, Chicago journalist Lloyd Lewis tried to make the case that it was Lincoln's funeral that spurred the soldiers' grave decorating that followed.


Boalsburg, Pennsylvania

On July 4, 1864, ladies decorated soldiers' graves according to local historians in
Boalsburg, Pennsylvania Boalsburg is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) in Harris Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania, Harris Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania, Centre County, Pennsylvania, United States. It is part of the State College, Pe ...

Boalsburg, Pennsylvania
. Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day. However, no reference to this event existed until the printing of the History of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers in 1904. In a footnote to a story about her brother, Mrs. Sophie (Keller) Hall described how she and Emma Hunter decorated the grave of Emma's father, Reuben Hunter. The original story did not account for Reuben Hunter's death occurring two months later on September 19, 1864. It also did not mention Mrs. Elizabeth Myers as one of the original participants. However, a bronze statue of all three women gazing upon Reuben Hunter's grave now stands near the entrance to the Boalsburg Cemetery. Although July 4, 1864, was a Monday, the town now claims that the original decoration was on one of the Sundays in October 1864.


National Decoration Day

On May 5, 1868, General
John A. Logan John Alexander Logan (February 9, 1826 – December 26, 1886) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of A ...

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 The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army , a regiment serving in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, Western Theater. File:GeorgeMcClellan1861a.jpg, 200px, left, ...

Grand Army of the Republic
(GAR), an organization of and for Union Civil War veterans founded in
Decatur, Illinois Decatur ( ) is the largest city and the county seat of Macon County, Illinois, Macon County in the U.S. state of Illinois, with a population of 70,522 as of the 2020 United States Census, 2020 Census. The city was founded in 1829 and is situate ...
. With his proclamation, Logan adopted the Memorial Day practice that had begun in the Southern states three years earlier."Memorial Day's Roots Traced To Georgia"
Michael Jones, ''Northwest Herald'', May 23, 2015.
The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. In 1868, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states, and 336 in 1869. 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.


Michigan state holiday

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 , which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near major battlefields and thus mainly in the South. The most famous are
Gettysburg National Cemetery Gettysburg National Cemetery is a United States national cemetery created for Union (American Civil War), Union/Federal casualties of the July 1 to 3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War (1861–1865). It is located just outside G ...

Gettysburg National Cemetery
in Pennsylvania and
Arlington National Cemetery Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia Arlington County is a County (United States), county in the Commonwealth of Virginia, often referred to simply as Arlington or Arlington, Virgin ...

Arlington National Cemetery
, near Washington, :D.C.


Waterloo, New York proclamation

On May 26, 1966, President
Lyndon B. Johnson Lyndon Baines Johnson (; August 27, 1908January 22, 1973), often referred to by his initials LBJ, was the 36th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the ...

Lyndon B. Johnson
designated an "official" birthplace of the holiday by signing the presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York, as the holder of the title. This action followed House Concurrent Resolution 587, in which the 89th Congress had officially recognized that the patriotic tradition of observing Memorial Day had begun one hundred years prior in Waterloo, New York. The village credits druggist Henry C. Welles and county clerk John B. Murray as the founders of the holiday. The legitimacy of this claim has been called into question by several scholars.


Early national history

In April 1865, following
Lincoln's assassination Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was Assassination, assassinated by well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, while attending the play ''Our American Cousin'' at Ford's Theatre, Ford's Theater in Washi ...

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 also began creating the
United States National Cemetery System File:Memphis national cemetery.jpg, 200px, National Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee, Memphis, Tennessee The United States National Cemetery System is a system of 171 nationally important cemetery, cemeteries in the United States. The author ...
for the Union war dead. By the 1880s, ceremonies were becoming more consistent across geography as the GAR provided handbooks that presented specific procedures, poems, and Bible verses for local post commanders to utilize in planning the local event. Historian Stuart McConnell reports:
on the day itself, the post assembled and marched to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of the fallen, an enterprise meticulously organized months in advance to assure that none were missed. Finally came a simple and subdued graveyard service involving prayers, short patriotic speeches, and music … and at the end perhaps a rifle salute.


Relationship to Confederate Memorial Day

In 1868, some Southern public figures began adding the label "Confederate" to their commemorations and claimed that Northerners had appropriated the holiday. The first official celebration of Confederate Memorial Day as a public holiday occurred in 1874, following a proclamation by the Georgia legislature. By 1916, ten states celebrated it, on June 3, the birthday of CSA President
Jefferson Davis Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808December 6, 1889) was an American politician who served as the president of the Confederate States The president of the Confederate States was the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) i ...

Jefferson Davis
. Other states chose late April dates, or May 10, commemorating Davis' capture. The
Ladies' Memorial Association A Ladies' Memorial Association (LMA) is a type of organization for women that sprang up all over the Southern United States, American South in the years after the American Civil War. Typically, these were organizations by and for women, whose goal ...
played a key role in using Memorial Day rituals to preserve Confederate culture. Various dates ranging from April 25 to mid-June were adopted in different Southern states. Across the South, associations were founded, many by women, to establish and care for permanent cemeteries for the Confederate dead, organize commemorative ceremonies, and sponsor appropriate monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate dead. The most important of these was the
United Daughters of the Confederacy The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) is an American hereditary association of women engaging in the commemoration of Confederate Civil War soldiers, the funding of monuments to them, and the promotion of the pseudo-historical Lost Ca ...
, which grew from 17,000 members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 women by
World War I World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world". The term is usually reserved for ...

World War I
. They were "strikingly successful at raising money to build Confederate monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks." By 1890, there was a shift from the emphasis on honoring specific soldiers to a public commemoration of the Confederate South. Changes in the ceremony's hymns and speeches reflect an evolution of the ritual into a symbol of cultural renewal and conservatism in the South. By 1913, David Blight argues, the theme of American nationalism shared equal time with the Confederate.


Renaming

By the 20th century, various Union memorial traditions, celebrated on different days, merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the U.S. military service. Indiana from the 1860s to the 1920s saw numerous debates on how to expand the celebration. It was a favorite lobbying activity of the
Grand Army of the Republic The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army , a regiment serving in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, Western Theater. File:GeorgeMcClellan1861a.jpg, 200px, left, ...

Grand Army of the Republic
(GAR). An 1884 GAR handbook explained that Memorial Day was "the day of all days in the G.A.R. Calendar" in terms of mobilizing public support for pensions. It advised family members to "exercise great care" in keeping the veterans sober. Memorial Day speeches became an occasion for veterans, politicians, and ministers to commemorate the Civil War and, at first, to rehash the "atrocities" of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation. People of all religious beliefs joined together and the point was often made that German and Irish soldiers – ethnic minorities which faced discrimination in the United States – had become true Americans in the "baptism of blood" on the battlefield. 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 Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856February 3, 1924) was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th from 1913 to 1921. A member of the , Wilson served as the and as the before winning the . As President, Wilson chang ...

Woodrow Wilson
, the first Southerner elected to the
White House The White House is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C., NW in Washington, D.C., and has been the residence of every U.S. preside ...

White House
since the War. of
Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = "Alabama (state song), Alabama" , image_map = Alabama in United States.svg , seat = Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery , LargestCity = Birmin ...

Alabama
gave the main address. Heflin was a noted orator; his choice as Memorial Day speaker was criticized, as he was opposed for his support of segregation; however, his speech was moderate in tone and stressed national unity and goodwill, gaining him praise from newspapers. The name "Memorial Day", which was first attested in 1882, gradually became more common than "Decoration Day" after
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
but was not declared the official name by federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the
Uniform Monday Holiday Act The Uniform Monday Holiday Act () is an Act of Congress An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by United States Congress, Congress. Acts can affect only individual entities (called private laws), or the general public (public laws). For a Bill ...
, 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's change of date within a few years. By the early 20th century, the GAR complained more and more about the younger generation. In 1913, one Indiana veteran complained that younger people born since the war had a "tendency ... to forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races, and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears". Indeed, in 1911 the scheduling of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway car race (later named the
Indianapolis 500 The Indianapolis 500, also formally known as the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, or simply the Indy 500, is an annual automobile race held at (IMS) in , United States, an of . The event is traditionally held over weekend, usually the last week ...

Indianapolis 500
) was vehemently opposed by the increasingly elderly GAR. The state legislature in 1923 rejected holding the race on the holiday. But the new
American Legion The American Legion, commonly known as the Legion, is a nonprofit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operate ...
and local officials wanted the big race to continue, so Governor Warren McCray vetoed the bill and the race went on.


Civil religious holiday

Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer. The
Veterans of Foreign Wars The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), formally the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, is an organization of U.S. war veterans, who, as military service members fought in wars, campaigns, and expeditions on foreign land, waters, o ...

Veterans of Foreign Wars
(VFW) and
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is an American congressionally chartered fraternal organization that carries out activities to preserve the history and legacy of the United States Armed Forces veterans who fought during the Civil ...

Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
(SUVCW) advocated returning to the original date. 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 The flag of the United States of America, often referred to as the American flag or the U.S. flag, is the national flag of the United States. It consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white, with ...

flag of the United States
is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the
half-staff Half-mast (British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and common cu ...
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 ''The National Memorial Day Concert'' is a free annual concert performed on the west lawn of the United States Capitol, United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in commemoration of Memorial Day between 1989 and 2019. In 2020 and 2021, ...

National Memorial Day Concert
takes place on the west lawn of the
United States Capitol The United States Capitol, often called The Capitol or the Capitol Building, is the meeting place of the and the of the of the . It is located on at the eastern end of the in Though no longer at the geographic center of the , the Capitol ...

United States Capitol
. The concert is broadcast on
PBS The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is an American public broadcaster Public broadcasting involves , and other electronic media outlets whose primary mission is . In many countries of the world, comes from governments, especially vi ...
and
NPR National Public Radio (NPR, stylized in all lowercase, npr) is an American privately and publicly funded non-profit media organization based in Washington, D.C. NPR is based in two locations: main NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. (often re ...
. Music is performed, and respect is paid to the people 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. Scholars, following the lead of sociologist
Robert Bellah Robert Neelly Bellah (February 23, 1927 – July 30, 2013) was an American sociologist and the Elliott Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Cal, or ...
, often make the argument that the United States has a secular "
civil religionCivil religion, also referred to as a civic religion, is the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed in a sequestered p ...
" – one with no association with any religious denomination or viewpoint – that has incorporated Memorial Day as a sacred event. With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enters the civil religion. Memorial Day gave ritual expression to these themes, integrating the local community into a sense of nationalism. The American civil religion, in contrast to that of France, was never anticlerical or militantly secular; in contrast to Britain, it was not tied to a specific denomination, such as the
Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is a Christian church Christian Church is a Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Critic ...
. The Americans borrowed from different religious traditions so that the average American saw no conflict between the two, and deep levels of personal motivation were aligned with attaining national goals.


Longest observance

Since 1868
Doylestown, Pennsylvania Doylestown is a borough (Pennsylvania), borough and the county seat of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Bucks County in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States. It is located 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Trenton, New Jersey, 25 miles (40 ...
, has held annual Memorial Day parades which it claims to be the nation's oldest continuously running.
Grafton, West Virginia Grafton is a city in and the county seat of Taylor County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 5,164 at the 2010 United States Census, 2010 census. It originally developed as a junction point for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, servi ...
, has also had an ongoing parade since 1867. However, the Memorial Day parade in
Rochester, Wisconsin Rochester is a village in Racine County, Wisconsin, Racine County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 3,682 at the 2010 United States Census, 2010 census. The village is located within the former Town of Rochester. On November 4, 2008, the ...
, predates Doylestown's by one year.


Poppies

In 1915, following the
Second Battle of Ypres During the First World War, the Second Battle of Ypres was fought from for control of the strategic Flemish Flemish (''Vlaams'') is a Low Franconian Low Franconian, Low Frankish, NetherlandicSarah Grey Thomason, Terrence Kaufman: ''Langu ...
, Lieutenant Colonel
John McCrae Lieutenant-Colonel Lieutenant colonel ( or ) is a rank of commissioned officer An officer is a member of an Military, armed forces or Uniformed services, uniformed service who holds a position of authority. In its broadest sense, the ...
, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, wrote the poem, "
In Flanders Fields "In Flanders Fields" is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July ...

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 The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) is a movement working for the empowerment, leadership and rights of women, young women and girls in more than 100 countries. The members and supporters include women from many different faiths, a ...
worker
Moina Michael Moina Belle Michael (August 15, 1869 – May 10, 1944) was an American professor Professor (commonly abbreviated as Prof.) is an Academy, academic rank at university, universities and other post-secondary education and research institutions ...
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 its official symbol of remembrance.


Observance dates (1971–2031)


Related traditions


Decoration Day (Appalachia and Liberia)

Decoration Days in Southern
Appalachia Appalachia () is a cultural region 's map of native American cultural areas within the territory of the United States (1948) as defined by Melville J. Herskovits influence , homelands of the Celtic languages The Celtic languages ( ...
and
Liberia Liberia (), officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape V ...

Liberia
are an unbroken tradition which arose by the 19th century. Decoration practices are localized and unique to individual families, cemeteries, and communities, but common elements that unify the various Decoration Day practices are thought to represent
syncretism Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs and various schools of thought A school of thought, or intellectual tradition, is the perspective of a group of people who share common characteristics of opinion or outlook of a philosophy, Lis ...
of predominantly Christian cultures in 19th century Southern Appalachia with pre-Christian influences from Scotland, Ireland, and African cultures. Appalachian and Liberian cemetery decoration traditions are thought to have more in common with one another than with United States Memorial Day traditions which are focused on honoring the military dead. Appalachian and Liberian cemetery decoration traditions pre-date the United States Memorial Day holiday. In the United States, cemetery decoration practices have been recorded in the Appalachian regions of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, northern South Carolina, northern Georgia, northern and central Alabama, and northern Mississippi. Appalachian cemetery decoration has also been observed in areas outside Appalachia along routes of westward migration from that region: northern Louisiana, northeastern Texas, Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, and southern Missouri. According to scholars Alan and Karen Jabbour, "the geographic spread ... from the Smokies to northeastern Texas and Liberia, offer strong evidence that the southern Decoration Day originated well back in the nineteenth century. The presence of the same cultural tradition throughout the Upland South argues for the age of the tradition, which was carried westward (and eastward to Africa) by nineteenth-century migration and has survived in essentially the same form till the present." While these customs may have inspired in part rituals to honor military dead like Memorial Day, numerous differences exist between Decoration Day customs and Memorial Day, including that the date is set differently by each family or church for each cemetery to coordinate the maintenance, social, and spiritual aspects of decoration.


In film, literature, and music


Films

* In ''
Memorial Day Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States In the United States, a federal holiday is a calendar date that is recognized and designated by the federal government of the United States as a h ...
'', a 2012
war film War film is a film genre concerned with warfare, typically about naval, air, or land Land is the solid surface of the Earth that is not permanently covered by water. The vast majority of human activity throughout history has occurre ...
starring
James Cromwell James Oliver Cromwell who is known professionally by his credited stage name as James Cromwell (born January 27, 1940) is an American Character actor, character actor and activist. Some of his best-known films include ''Babe (film), Babe'' (1995 ...

James Cromwell
, Jonathan Bennett, and John Cromwell, a character recalls and relives memories of World War II.


Music

*
Charles Ives Charles Edward Ives (; October 20, 1874May 19, 1954) was an American modernist Modernism is both a philosophical movement A philosophical movement refers to the phenomenon defined by a group of philosophers A philosopher is someone wh ...
's symphonic 1912 poem ''Decoration Day'' depicts the holiday as he experienced it in his childhood, with his father's band leading the way to the town cemetery, the playing of "
Taps "Taps" is a bugle call plays the bugle during the Gulf War, in March 1991. A bugle call is a short melody, tune, originating as a military Military communications, signal announcing scheduled and certain non-scheduled events on a military inst ...

Taps
" on a trumpet, and a livelier march tune on the way back to the town. It is frequently played with three other Ives works based on holidays, as the second movement of '' A Symphony: New England Holidays''. * American rock band
Drive-By Truckers The Drive-By Truckers are an alternative country/Southern rock band based in Athens, Georgia. Two of five current members (Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley (American musician), Mike Cooley) are originally from The Shoals region of northern Alabama ...
released a
Jason Isbell Michael Jason Isbell (; born February 1, 1979) is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He is known for his solo career, his work with the band The 400 Unit, and as a former member of Drive-By Truckers for six years, from 2001 to 2007. Isb ...
–penned song titled "Decoration Day" on their 2003 album of the same title.


Poetry

Poems commemorating Memorial Day include: * Francis M. Finch's "The Blue and the Gray" (1867) * Michael Anania's "Memorial Day" (1994) *
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include "", ', and '. He was the first American to translate 's ' and was one of the from New England. Longfellow was born in , w ...

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
's "Decoration Day" (1882) *
Joyce Kilmer Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918) was an American writer A writer is a person who uses written words in different styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce different forms of literary art and creativ ...

Joyce Kilmer
's "Memorial Day"


See also


United States

* Remembrance Day at the Gettysburg Battlefield, an annual honoring of Civil War dead held near the anniversary of the
Gettysburg Address The Gettysburg Address is a speech Speech is human vocal communication using language. Each language uses Phonetics, phonetic combinations of vowel and consonant sounds that form the sound of its words (that is, all English words sound diff ...

Gettysburg Address
* A Great Jubilee Day, first held the last Monday in May 1783 (
American Revolutionary War The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the Revolutionary War and the American War of Independence, was initiated by delegates from thirteen American colonies of British America British America comprised the colon ...
) *
Armed Forces Day Many nations around the world observe some kind of Armed Forces Day to honor their military A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is typica ...

Armed Forces Day
, third Saturday in May, a more narrowly observed remembrance honoring those currently serving in the U.S. military *
Armistice Day Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I The Allies of World War I or Entente (type of alliance), Entente Powers were a coalition of countries led by French ...
, November 11, the original name of Veterans Day in the United States *
Confederate Memorial Day Confederate Memorial Day (called Confederate Heroes Day in Texas Texas (, ) is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. It is the second largest U.S. state by both List of U.S. states and ter ...
, observed on various dates in many states in the South in memory of those killed fighting for the Confederacy during the American Civil War *
Memorial Day massacre of 1937 In the Memorial Day massacre of 1937, the Chicago Police Department shot and killed ten unarmed demonstrators in Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive maps of Chicago , c ...
, May 30, held to remember demonstrators shot by police in Chicago *
Nora Fontaine DavidsonNora Fontaine Maury Davidson (February 19, 1836 – February 10, 1929) was an American teacher, schoolteacher in Petersburg, Virginia. She is credited for holding the first Memorial Day ceremony in Petersburg, and as the inspiration for the United St ...
, credited with the first Memorial Day ceremony in Petersburg, Virginia *
Patriot Day In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Was ...

Patriot Day
, September 11, in memory of people killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks *
United States military casualties of war The following is a tabulation of United States military casualties of war. Overview Note: "Total casualties" includes wounded, combat and non-combat deaths but not missing in action. "Deaths – other" includes all non-combat deaths including those ...
*
Veterans Day Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is a federal holiday in the United States observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans, who are people who have served in the United States Armed Forces The United State ...
, November 11, in memory of American military deaths during World War I. See
Remembrance Day Remembrance Day (sometimes known informally as Poppy Day owing to the tradition of the remembrance poppy) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states. Remembrance Day has been observed since the end of the First World War ...
for similar observances in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other Commonwealth nations.


Other countries

*
ANZAC Day Anzac Day () is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suf ...

ANZAC Day
, April 25, an analogous observance in Australia and New Zealand *
Armistice Day Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I The Allies of World War I or Entente (type of alliance), Entente Powers were a coalition of countries led by French ...
, November 11, the original name of Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other Commonwealth nations *
Heroes' Day Heroes' Day or National Heroes' Day may refer to a number of commemorations of national heroes in different countries. It is often held on the birthday of a national hero or heroine, or the anniversary of their great deeds that made them heroes. ...
, various dates in various countries recognizing national heroes * International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, May 29, international observance recognizing United Nations peacekeepers *
Remembrance Day Remembrance Day (sometimes known informally as Poppy Day owing to the tradition of the remembrance poppy) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states. Remembrance Day has been observed since the end of the First World War ...
, November 11, a similar observance in Canada, the United Kingdom, and many other Commonwealth nations originally marking the end of World War I * Remembrance of the Dead ("Dodenherdenking"), May 4, a similar observance in the Netherlands * Volkstrauertag ("People's Mourning Day"), a similar observance in Germany usually in November * Yom HaZikaron, Yom Hazikaron (Israeli memorial day), the day before Independence Day (Israel), around Iyar 4 * Decoration Day (Canada), a Canadian holiday that recognizes veterans of Canada's military which has largely been eclipsed by the similar Remembrance Day * Memorial Day (South Korea), June 6, the day to commemorate the men and women who died while in military service during the Korean War and other significant wars or battles * Victoria Day, a Canadian holiday on the last Monday before May 25 each year, lacks the military memorial aspects of Memorial Day but serves a similar function as marking the start of cultural summer


References


Further reading

* Albanese, Catherine. "Requiem for Memorial Day: Dissent in the Redeemer Nation", ''American Quarterly'', Vol. 26, No. 4 (Oct. 1974), pp. 386–9
in JSTOR
* Bellah, Robert N. "Civil Religion in America". ''Daedalus'' 1967 96(1): 1–21
online edition
* Bellware, Daniel, and Richard Gardiner
''The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America'' (Columbus State University, 2014).
* Blight, David W. "Decoration Day: The Origins of Memorial Day in North and South" in Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, eds. ''The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture'' (2004)
online edition
pp. 94–129; the standard scholarly history * Blight, David W. ''Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory'' (2000) ch. 3, "Decorations
excerpt and text search
* Buck, Paul H. ''The Road to Reunion, 1865–1900'' (1937) * Cherry, Conrad. "Two American Sacred Ceremonies: Their Implications for the Study of Religion in America", ''American Quarterly'', Vol. 21, No. 4 (Winter, 1969), pp. 739–5
in JSTOR
* Dennis, Matthew. ''Red, White, and Blue Letter Days: An American Calendar'' (2002) * Jabbour, Alan, and Karen Singer Jabbour. ''Decoration Day in the Mountains: Traditions of Cemetery Decoration in the Southern Appalachians'' (University of North Carolina Press; 2010) * Myers, Robert J. "Memorial Day". Chapter 24 in ''Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays''. (1972) *


External links


36 USC 116. ''Memorial Day''
(designation law)
United States Department of Veterans Affairs

National Moment of Remembrance Home Page



National Memorial Day Concert site

The History of Memorial Day
* :s:en:Suggestive programs for special day exercises/Memorial Day, Memorial Day celebration suggestions, 1898 {{Authority control Public holidays in the United States May observances Observances honoring victims of war Holidays and observances by scheduling (nth weekday of the month) Federal holidays in the United States United States flag flying days Holidays Monday observances