History of Memorial Day
Every year on the last Monday in May, the United States celebrates one of its major holidays, Memorial Day. Memorial Day was originally created to honor those who lost their lives fighting during the Civil War, a war fought between the North and the South during the 1860s. The war claimed more lives than any other conflict in history, and it required the establishment of the country's first national cemeteries.
In the late 1860s, many towns and cities throughout the United States were honoring the lost soldiers, planning springtime tributes and events in their memory, and decorating their graves with flowers as they recited prayers. No one knows the exact date of the tradition's beginning, but there were many communities throughout America who honored the fallen soldiers. However, the federal government officially named Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
Presently, every year on Memorial Day, at 3:00 PM, a national moment of remembrance takes place. The first celebration, like those today, took place in Waterloo on May 5, 1866. Businesses closed and it was annual event when the citizens decorated the graves of soldiers with flags and flowers.
In 1868, the holiday was called Decoration Day, a day named by a leader of an organization of Northern Civil War Veterans, General John Logan. He suggested a nationwide remembrance for later in the month. He first chose May 30th because it was not the anniversary of any battle. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. On that day, about 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
Northern states held like events to honor the dead, and some had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states honored their dead on separate days until later. Eventually, Memorial Day became a day to honor all soldiers who fought and died in all wars, not just the Civil War.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act establishing the last Monday in May as Memorial Day across the U.S., and it created a 3-day holiday for federal employees. It went into effect in 1971.
The traditions of Memorial Day presently include parades, which includes members of the military, veterans and organizations, and other military personnel. Of course, the parades also include many marching bands, musical or dancing acts, firetrucks, and many more groups who join to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.
The day has also become the unofficial start of summer for many people as they embark on weekend holiday trips, plan barbecues, and throw parties. Others visit cemeteries and memorials to honor the local soldiers who may have died in one of the wars.
In summary, various spring days in the late 1860s were used across America to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, but throughout the following years, Decoration Day became a state holiday in the North for the same purpose. This led to Congress assigning the last day of May as Memorial Day to honor all soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the United Sates.
On this day, the fallen soldiers from the Civil War, the World Wars, Vietnam War, and other conflicts are honored for their service to America.
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