Memorial Day: Why and what we commemorate

The long-standing custom of memorializing U.S. military personnel killed in action began during the Civil War and was officially recognized as Decoration Day in 1971.

The day's origin is unclear. claims numerous American communities started the holiday. Richmond, Virginia; Macon, Georgia; Columbus, Mississippi.

In 1865, emancipated slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, commemorated fallen Union captives at a Confederate horse racing track turned jail.

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., Memorial Day's birthplace on May 5, 1866, stopping businesses and having residents decorate soldiers' graves with flags and flowers.

The Grand Army of the Republic, under Gen. John A. Logan, founded Decoration Day two years after Waterloo.

The directive designated May 30, 1868, "designated for the sole purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the tombs of comrades who died in service of their country 

During the late insurrection, and whose remains now lie in nearly every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land."

Former General and then-President Ulysses S. Grant led the first big celebration at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on May 30, 1873, with 5,000 attendees.

Current presidential administrations will visit Virginia on Memorial Day to honor this tradition.

Memorial Day became a day to remember Civil War veterans. After World military I, the day became a national memorial for U.S. military dead.


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