Next Monday in the United States, we will celebrate Memorial Day. Many think of it only as a three-day weekend and the unofficial start of summer. Backyard cookouts, picnics, and trips to the beach are common. Yet many take for granted what the holiday is all about.
Unlike Veterans Day, which is to honor the living who serve or have served in the military, Memorial day is a time to remember those who died in service to our country. It was first known as Decoration Day and began after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in battle. Over two dozen cities and towns lay claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day; however, President Andrew Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York as its birthplace in May 1866.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. Five-thousand participants decorated the graves of the Union and Confederate Soldiers buried there. New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday and by 1890 all northern states had joined in the recognition. Sadly, the southern states refused to acknowledge it until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring only those who died in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died in all wars.
The original May 30 was changed to the last Monday in May when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968. Some, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, advocate returning to the original date to honor the true significance of the holiday.
So when we enjoy our three-day weekend or backyard cookout, let’s not forget to remember and honor those who lost their lives in service to our country.
- American Revolutionary War—25,000
- War of 1812—15,000
- Mexican American War—13,283
- American Civil War—625,000
- World War I—116,516
- World War II—405,399
- Korean War—36,516
- Persian Gulf War—294
- Iraq War—4,488
- And those who have died in all other wars