<!--:es-->Memorial Day commemorates US men and women who died while in the military service!<!--:-->

Memorial Day commemorates US men and women who died while in the military service!

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 31 in 2010). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War), it was expanded after World War I.

History

Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Sharpsburg, Maryland, located near Antietam Battlefield; Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Petersburg, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days.

According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed by formerly enslaved black people at the Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park) in Charleston, South Carolina. The race course had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp in 1865 as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, formerly enslaved people exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard. The work was completed in only ten days. On May 1, 1865, the Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly black residents, including 2800 children, processed to the location for included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the first Decoration Day.

The first observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter. The friendship between General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who helped bring attention to the event nationwide, was likely a factor in the holiday’s growth. On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ organization, Logan issued a proclamation that «Decoration Day» be observed nationwide. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle. The tombs of fallen Union soldiers were decorated in remembrance.

Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day, due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army and also because there were relatively few veterans of the Union Army who were buried in the South. A notable exception was Columbus, Mississippi, which on April 25, 1866, at its Decoration Day commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.

The alternative name of «Memorial Day» was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The holidays included Washington’s Birthday, now celebrated as Presidents’ Day; Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.

After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted the measure within a few years. In 1978, Veterans Day was changed back to its traditional date on November 11. Most corporate businesses no longer close on Veterans Day, Columbus Day or President’s Day, with the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and/or New Year’s Eve often substituted as more convenient «holidays» for their employees. Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the beginning of the «summer vacation season.» This role is filled in neighboring Canada by Victoria Day, which occurs either on May 24 or the last Monday before that date, placing it exactly one week before Memorial Day.

Traditional Observance

Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time. Another tradition is to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at National Cemeteries.

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars take donations[5] for poppies in the days leading up to Memorial Day; the poppy’s significance to Memorial Day is the result of the John McCrae poem «In Flanders Fields.»

In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also used as a time for picnics, barbecues, family gatherings, and sporting events. One of the longest-standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, an auto race which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. The Coca-Cola 600 has been held later the same day since 1961.

The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol. The concert is broadcast on PBS and NPR. Music is performed, and respect is paid to the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

Some Americans view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer and Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season.

Memorial Day formerly was observed on May 30. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocate returning to this fixed date, although the significance of the date is tenuous.

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