Memorial Day a Review of Its Origins


Memorial Day, Arlington, 5/30/24 Source: Library of Congress

The first national commemoration of what is now called Memorial Day was in 1868, when former Union General and future U.S. President James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.

"We do not know one promise these men made, 

one pledge they gave,

one word they spoke;

but we do know they summed up and perfected,

by one supreme act, 

the highest virtues of men and citizens," 

The distinction of three holidays recognizing the U.S. Military are

Armed Forces Day - all currently enlisted

Memorial Day - those who were killed in combat (or have since passed)

Veterans Day - those who are Veterans - alive.

1866 Waterloo, New York:  

Residents "prepared wreaths, crosses and bouquets for each veteran's grave" and walked from cemetery to cemetery to honor those who died in the Civil War.

1864 Boalsburg, Pennsylvania: 

Residents decorated the graves of recently fallen soldiers, as well as men who had died in the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.

Decoration Day

The Grand Army of the Republic, an association of Union Civil War veterans, began recognizing May 30th as an official day of remembrance, to honor those who died in combat by decorating the graves of Union soldiers.

1968 Washington, DC 

Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, June 27, 1968, which officially declared that Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday in May rather than May 30th.  

Public Law 90-363 June 28, 1968 AN ACT [H.R. 15951]

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