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2012 United States Holidays: Memorial Day

Updated on July 20, 2013

American Flag Decorates War Veterans

a decorated cemetery on Memorial Day
a decorated cemetery on Memorial Day | Source

Memorial Day History

The Civil War: Confederate and Union Military Deaths

The Civil War was the bloodiest war that Americans fought, and the one with the most casualties. Over 600,000 Union soldiers died during the war, which lasted from 1861-1865, and over 100,000 Confederate soldiers died. In total, approximately 780,333 citizens died for their beliefs.

Today, most Americans observe Memorial Day, however, several U.S. states observe a separate day of remembrance in addition to the last Monday in May. This day varies among the states that participate in the date set aside to honor Confederate soldiers, but the purpose is similar to the federal holiday: honor those fallen in the battle of the Civil War.

John Logan and James A. Garfield

In 1868, General John “Black Jack” Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation to set aside one day in May honoring the fallen Civil War soldiers. The Grand Army of the Republic, referred to as G.A.R., was an organization of Union veterans. General Order #11, as it is known on the history pages, would begin a tradition that General Logan hoped would continue for generations to come. May 30th was selected for decorating the tombstones with flags and flowers, because the flowers were in abundance in late spring. Decoration Day, as the annual event came to be known, eventually evolved into Memorial Day, and Logan’s vision came to fruition.

Arlington National Cemetary

The first official Decoration Day was noted to be a long ordeal, in Arlington, Virginia. Many local towns participated in their own celebrations; however, the event that Major General James A. Garfield, also a member of G.A.R., was a keynote speaker of, took place at the Arlington National Cemetery. General Garfield would later become our nation’s 20thPresident.

But, long before General Logan’s proclamation was ordered, people were already honoring their loved ones with flowers on the gravesites. In fact, it was such a common activity, many towns claimed to be the first to make it an annual activity. Cities which have been noted to make this claim include: Carbondale, IL; Boalsburg, PA; Richmond, VA; Charleston, SC; Macon, GA; and Columbus, MS.

Post World War I Changes

In1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson granted Waterloo, New York, the title of the originator of grave decorating, because they observed this day of mourning as a community. On May 5, 1866, businesses closed their doors for the day and citizens turned their attention to placing flowers and flags on the tombs, commiserating the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in battle.

Decoration Day, originally celebrated to honor the Civil War soldiers, was expanded to include service people who died in any of the American battles following World War I. Thus, in 1967 the transition was made to rename the local holiday from Decoration Day to Memorial Day.

Then, in 1971, an act of Congress made the local holiday an official federal holiday changing the date from May 30th to the last Monday of the month. This year it will fall on May 31st.

Remembering the Confederate Soldiers

States that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day

Mississippi: last Monday in April

Alabama: fourth Monday in April

Georgia: April 26th

North Carolina: May 10th

South Carolina: May 10th

Tennessee: June 3rd

Louisiana: June 3rd

Virginia: Last Monday in May

Texas: January 19th (Confederate Heroes Day)



Quick Look: American Wars

Date American Wars Casualties

1775-1783 American Revolution 4,435

1812-1815 War of 1812 2,260

1846-1848 Mexican War 13,283

1861-1865 Civil War 780,333

4/25-8/12 1898 Spanish American War 2,446

1914-1918 WW I 116,708

1939-1945 WW II 407, 306

1950-1953 Korean War 36, 512

1954-1975 Vietnam War 58, 193

1990-1991 Persian Gulf War 148

Common Memorial Day Themes

There are three common themes that follow Memorial Day: Flags, flowers, and patriotism.

1.Flags: Memorial Day is one of the most popular days to expose your American flag. Note the abundance of mini flags that populate the stores just prior to the date. What child doesn’t like to be a part of the festivities? These hand held flags are just right for tiny fingers to wrap around and wave at the local parades.

Flags are used to decorate the graves of our service people in both local and national cemeteries. In Arlington National Cemetery, individual flags are meticulously placed at each tomb days prior to Memorial Day, in preparation for the national ceremony. In honor of the deceased veterans, flags are to be flown at half staff until noon. Then, it is to be raised to full staff until sunset.

2. Flowers: Flowers were the original ‘decoration’ of the tombstones and are still popular today to use to brighten the gravesites. A wreath of flowers is placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier annually, as part of the Memorial Day ceremony. The wearing of an artificial, red poppy is a custom that has been recognized in association with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The tradition of the red poppy was inspired by the poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrea, and initiated as a fundraiser, by Moina Michael, a volunteer in 1922. She began by wearing the red poppy to remember those killed in the war, and eventually sold them to her friends. The Veterans of Foreign War Organization continues the sale as a fundraiser even to this day.

3. Patriotism: Patriotism is really the main theme of Memorial Day. After all, if it were not for the war for freedom, we would not be celebrating a day to remember. So, while the parades, dedications, decorations and fun occupy our attention, this Monday, May 31st, let us recall those American citizens who chose the path of service to protect. Through their call to duty our nation has enjoyed the abundant privileges of our liberty.

We show our patriotism through the wearing of the colors of the American flag, or jewelry that symbolizes the flag; tee-shirts that have bold, patriotic claims, or flying the American flag. We participate in Memorial Day activities through our local communities, churches and veteran organizations. We also do this by pausing for a minute of silence at 3:00 pm local time, to reflect on those who gave up their lives in order for us to enjoy our freedom. The National Moment of Remembrance Act, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, in 2000. Let each of us stop what we are doing and reflect, pray, or remember that our nation, the United States, has an abundance of freedom fighters, past and present.

As General John A. Logan’s proclamation stated, over a century ago, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic”.

To visit the Arlington National Cemetery:

A markerArlington National Cemetery -
Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Dr, Fort Myer, VA 22211, USA
get directions

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    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      LOL That's wonderful Audrey, hee hee.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Oh boy! Can't wait to meet you! Oh boy!!!

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Audrey, when I decide to take my long, summer roadtrip I will head to TN and meet up with you and yes, sit for a hot fudge sundae-my favorite! Thanks for such a bright, cheery greeting this morning. :) Hugs back.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      We should get together :-) We could just spend the day doing whatever feels good and maybe have an ice cream sunday with hot fudge, really gooey, whipped cream and a sprinkle of nuts on top. Hugs, my friend.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks tillsontitan for your feedback. I found this research to be very interesting and uplifting, including the quote you mentioned. Thanks for the vote.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      You should bring this hub up every year to remind young people about why we celebrate Memorial Day. The most important quote is the one from Gen. Logan "“Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic”.

      Your hub is a great reminder with lots of good history. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Danette-this is so bizarre...I've attempted x 3 to add the capsule to link your Taps hub into this one and each time it is not saving it. Weird...and I've got to go to work now.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Danette-thanks for your comments and the link to your 'Taps' hub. I will do the same. It was one of the first hubs I wrote two years ago...not sure you were into the hub thing at the time. :) Glad you're here now. Happy Memorial Day W/E and I hope you enjoy doing something...(another run???)

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Dee, I don't know how I missed this one...am going to link my hub on the history of Taps to this one. I thought your hub was very informative. The Boy Scout troop the kids belonged to always mark graves in the local cemetery with small American flags and march in the parades. It always looks nice with the flags out. Voted up and across except funny.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Just a great hub. Love veterans have them all through my family. I was a military brat. Voted Up

    • Denise Handlon profile image
      Author

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Audrey. I appreciate your feedback. It's coming up quickly and I have no plans...how about you?

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Denise, you deserved to have this hub nominated. It is magnificent. A marvelous history and tribute to Memorial Day. Thank you so much!

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi KDuBarry-thanks for stopping by and reading/commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      Very well written! I agree with WillStar, the fallen should be honored. I am honored to have read such a great hub for the fallen and for our soldiers :0 thank you for sharing this!

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Will for reading it and commenting. Appreciate it.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Well done!

      All the fallen should be honored.

      I see why this won.

      Voted up and awesome!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks Denise,

      Yes, we are fortunate to be together and I thank God for that fact every day.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
      Author

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Gail, for reading this. It is a sad situation, all of the deaths and disabled war vets. You and your husband are fortunate that you are together. Thanks for your comments.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Hi Denise,

      I chose to read this hub because yesterday was Veteran's Day and my husband (a Vietnam veteran) and I attended a Veteran's Day service together. Even after all these years he still gets choked up at these ceremonies as he remembers the buddies who died or were injured in that war, and the servicemen and women who are continuing to serve our country.

      Thanks for sharing this informative hub. I didn't know any of the history of Memorial Day.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
      Author

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Soumyasrajan-thank you for stopping by to read this hub. I'm glad you were able to find some interesting facts that were new. As for your questioning about the US celebrating weekends-I think the American people are always hopeful for an extended holiday, LOL. So, if we can stretch out that significant day we will. Especially when it comes to commercial retail owners having an excuse for a sale!

      I am interested in reading your hub about Truth and have bookmarked it for a later read. Thanks!

    • profile image

      soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Interesting hub Denise! I enjoyed reading some of these details. I did not know that it was called decoration day earlier. I wonder is there any other country apart from USA which clubs such occasions with patriotic sentiments with week ends rather than celebrating on actual day.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
      Author

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Dear Bill-by all means, of course you are right. Each country values their 'home' and will stand up for what they believe in, and fight for these beliefs. I, and countless others, are grateful for those who fought in any war defending our country, our values, and our democracy.

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article, and make your comments known. May your daily memories not be all sorrowful.

    • profile image

      bill o'neill 7 years ago

      Denise,

      Everyday is Memorial Day for me. I remember the brothers who died a long way from home and too young, I remember all, friends and enemies. None of them wanted to be where they ultimately die. America is not the only nation whose citizens willingly lay down their lives that nation may live

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks fetty. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • fetty profile image

      fetty 7 years ago from South Jersey

      Wonderful, informative and beautiful hub. Congrats. on your nomination, too !

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      M.S. Fowler-glad you enjoyed.

      Cecelia- I'm thrilled you were able to pick something up you didn't know before. My goal was achieved! (This was difficult for me-didn't care for history, haha).

    • M.s Fowler profile image

      M.s Fowler 7 years ago from United states

      Nice information and beautiful hub I love Independence Day!

    • profile image

      Cecilia Handlon 7 years ago

      Denise once again you outdid yourself! So much memorial information I didn't get in history books. Congradulations!

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      thanks Ripplemaker. Imagine my shock...and delight.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      WOOHOO another Hubnugget nomination! This is certainly another moment to remember. :) Congratulations!

      To vote for this hub for the Hubnuggets, please follow this link: http://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/The-hubnugget...

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow, thanks Pamela. Appreciate it. Yes, it was a bit of a 'search'. Challenged me, actually. I'm not a big history fan or interest buff. But, I'm learning alot, LOL.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Denise, You obviously did a lot of research and wrote an amazing hub with a wealth of information. Rated up!

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Money Glitch. Thanks for stopping by to read it.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 7 years ago from Texas

      Thanks for reminding everyone that Memorial Day is a time to remember and reflect on what our army forces have done for this country with many giving their lives for the freedom of others. Congrats on being a nominee in this week's HubNuggets Wannabes contest. Good luck to you!

    • Denise Handlon profile image
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      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Joni, thanks for the 'congrats' and the time you took stopping by to read the article.

      Ned: Nice to see you here. I remember your writings about being in the Navy. Thanks for the comments. :)

    • profile image

      Ned Stern 7 years ago

      Wonderful article, Denise. As a veteran and VFW member, it means a lot.

    • Joni Douglas profile image

      Joni Douglas 7 years ago

      What a great hub. Full of the reasons why we hold this day sacred. Thank you and congrats on your nomination to hubnuggets.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
      Author

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Cagsil, thanks for stopping in to read it. I appreciate it. It did take some research, but I discovered several new things I had not previously known. :)

    • Cagsil profile image

      Cagsil 7 years ago from USA or America

      You put a lot of effort into your hub and it is filled with a lot of information. I would have to say it was a very interesting read. I appreciate you sharing. Thank you. :)

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Very informative! Well done! Thank you.

    • Denise Handlon profile image
      Author

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      LOL You are too much. Great sense of humor.

    • profile image

      lauren 7 years ago

      very informative....all i can say is that i support our veterans....love 'em in their uniform, have loved 'em more when they were without!