Memorial Day: A History

UNITED STATES一 Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971, but its roots trace back to the end of the Civil War.

In May 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of a veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the war.

Originally called Decoration Day, Logan said that Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of soldiers lost in the war.

There are two schools of thought on the date; Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle; or May 30 ensured that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.

According to, Logan’s wife said that Logan was inspired by women’s groups across the south that were gathering informally to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers.

America embraced Decoration Day from the start and in the first years 27 states held some sort of ceremony. By 1890 the holiday had been adopted as an official holiday by every former state of the Union. Initially it was only to remember those that were lost in the Civil War but was expanded to include all those lost in war after the United States entered World War I.

World War I brought along another tradition to Memorial Day, red poppies. A Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae spotted a group of red poppies standing out amongst the battle-ravaged landscape in Northern France and Flanders.

McCrae wrote a poem called “In Flanders Field” inspired by the red poppies and the soldiers buried beneath them.

A Georgia school teacher named Moina Michael was inspired by the poem and launched a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to all who died in the war.

In 1971, Decoration Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, and placed on the last Monday of May, changing the original date from May 30.

As is tradition, the American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff.

And in 2000 U.S. Congress passed legislation for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m.

It’s important to remember and honor the soldiers, sailors, and airmen that gave their lives fighting for our country and our freedom.

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