Memorial Day 2015
Memorial Day is celebrated once a year in the United States on the last Monday of May. It is a holiday designed to celebrate, honor and remember the people who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. The holiday was originally called Decoration Day and first occurred after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died. Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
History of the Holiday
The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. A claim was made in 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia, on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. Though not for Union soldiers, there is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia, decorated Confederate soldiers’ graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. As a result, Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The sheer number of soldiers of both sides, who died in the Civil War, more than 750,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries or help to clean the grounds surrounding the cemeteries. Please visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to learn how you and your staff can help honor the men and woman who have died while serving our country.