Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day
Each year, the United States sets aside the last Monday in May as a day of remembrance of all those who have died while serving our country in the U.S. Armed Forces. Memorial Day has a distinct focus from Veterans Day, when we honor all veterans, and Armed Forces Day, when we show our appreciation for all those currently serving in our country’s military. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on our past while honoring the sacrifices of those who fought for our future.
The origins of Memorial Day trace back to the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in United States history, outpacing both World Wars in terms of the number of American lives lost. During and after the war, the federal government established the United States’ first national cemeteries, such as Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. In the following years, it became a tradition for many Americans to place flowers on top of the graves of the fallen soldiers. Some cities and states began to systematize this practice, designating specific “Decoration Days” to honor the dead. Gradually, Decoration Day became Memorial Day, expanding to honor the many soldiers who died during World War I and World War II.
However, Memorial Day wouldn’t become a federal holiday until 1971, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect. In addition to designating the holiday as a time to remember fallen soldiers from all U.S. wars, the act also unified the patchwork of Memorial Day celebrations. From then on, the holiday would be celebrated across the country on the final Monday in May, a demonstration of national unity that continues to this day.
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