Memorial Day - Ways to Celebrate and Commemorate

One among our holidays alone bears the name and the specific call to remembrance: Memorial Day - our nation's commemoration of the sacrifices made by those whose lives were lost for the freedoms we hold sacred.

Whether our veterans survived their military service, or were killed on the field of battle, our country owes each of them, and their families, a debt of gratitude. Our freedoms were earned, bled for, and in many cases, died for.

History and Origins

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a post-Civil War holiday. It was first instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5th, 1868 General Logan issued general Order No. 11 calling for the membership to set aside May 30th as a day for remembering the sacrifices made by their fallen brothers. Quoting General’s words "the 30th of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church yard in the land."

With that declaration, "Decoration Day" began to be celebrated throughout the US every May 30th.

The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882 honoring every US soldier who died in service to our motherland. But Memorial Day really become commonly used until after WWI. It was about this time the red poppy came to be a symbol to honor our veterans on this day. As time went on and we lost men and women to other conflicts, Memorial Day began to replace Decoration Day as the more commonly used term.

But how should we - the living - best honor these lives and those memories? In what manner and spirit should we remember? Why Memorial Day today?

Act to remember

The “National Moment of Remembrance Act” was signed on Dec. 20, 2000, by President Bill Clinton, designating 3:00 p.m. (local time) as a moment set aside to “pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday” to reflect and remember those that gave their lives so that so many more of us may live in freedom. Many patriotic events are held during the Memorial Day holiday including the President of the United States laying a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier.

You may be familiar with the 3:00 p.m. observed by all Major League Baseball teams, NASCAR, Greyhound Lines, and NASA. And if you are traveling on Amtrak or located anywhere along its route at 3:00 pm on this holiday, you’ll hear train whistles blasting to honor “the serving and the sacrificed of America’s armed services.”

The Red-White-and-Blue Flag - Honoring Service and Sacrifice

So Decoration Day evolved over the years to become known as Memorial Day, but despite the name change there are still many of our senior citizens who continue to refer to it as Decoration Day. On this day, communities across the United States place wreaths, crosses, flower bouquets and of course - American flags on graves of veterans to memorialize all the Americans who have died in our nation’s wars.

You may be feeling inspired to fly an American flag on Memorial Day. If so, be sure to follow the proper etiquette. To fly your flag at half-staff as a symbol of mourning, first raise it to the top of the pole for a moment, and then lower it to the halfway point. On Memorial Day alone, the flag is flown at half-staff until noontime, then raised up again between noon and sunset.

Hitting the Road

It is the official “kickoff” to the Summer season, beach visits, BBQ’s and long warm days in the sun. High School Seniors have graduated and looking forward to graduation parties, beach week, and possibly getting ready to start college. But what is Memorial Day really all about, it is so much more than just a day off.

So as we start to look forward to those Memorial Day parties and BBQ’s we hope that you will take a moment and also remember those that are currently serving us and all those who have given their lives for us.


Accounts of courage and sacrifice, and of competence and service, contribute to our appreciation of what earlier generations have given to the nation and help us understand why this ground is set aside as hallowed.

"They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning…"

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