For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend is a three-day holiday that marks the unofficial start of summer. There's much more to it than that, of course. Memorial Day is intended to be a solemn occasion to honor American’s lost service men and women.
It dates back to 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, when Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Army veterans, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of war dead with flowers. The first national celebration was held on May 30 that year at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies had spread across the nation. In 1971, an act of Congress declared it a national holiday, moving it to the last Monday in May.
Arlington remains a center of Memorial Day observances, with flags placed on each grave and ceremonies attended by the president or vice president. Washington plays host to the popular National Memorial Day Concert, broadcast live on PBS, the Sunday before the holiday and to the National Memorial Day Parade on Monday.
But, you don't have to be in the nation's capital to take part. Here are four ways you can honor the memory of those who have died in service to our nation, wherever you are.
Arlington is just one of many national cemeteries located throughout the nation. Many states also have established veterans cemeteries. Check the Department of Veteran Affairs listings for a cemetery in your area. There likely will be a Memorial Day ceremony scheduled.
Did you know? The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 was roughly the same size as that attending modern-day observances, about 5,000 people.
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