History of Memorial Day

Learn about the history of the holiday and when Memorial Day is observed

Hallmark staff
Learn about the history of Memorial Day

Several cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of the holiday in 1966. A hundred years earlier, on May 5, veterans of the Civil War were honored at a ceremony in that city. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say that earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

It was only after World War I that the occasion was expanded to commemorate those who had died in all U.S. wars. Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress in 1971 and the last Monday in May was designated as its day of remembrance. (Source: www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp)

Did you know?

  • Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday in May.
  • The purpose of the holiday is to honor those who have died while serving the country in wars and to make sure future generations do not forget the costs of a free and undivided republic.
  • About 5,000 people attended the first large observance of the occasion at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C, in 1868. Small American flags were placed at the site of each grave, a tradition followed by many national cemeteries today.
  • The National Moment of Remembrance, which Congress established in 2000, encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 134 national cemeteries. Several states have veterans’ cemeteries as well. About 1.1 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars.
  • In 1915, the red poppy became a symbol of fallen soldiers in World War I after John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer, described red poppies in his famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” Five years later, it became the official flower of The American Legion Family and has since become a nationally recognized symbol of sacrifice of men and women who served and died for their country during a time of war. Veterans make millions of red paper poppies every year to raise money for veterans and their families. (Source: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/flower.pdf)