Learn About Memorial Day in USA

Resource history Memorial Day in USA

About America’s Memorial Day

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves.  It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of the Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.  On May 5, 1968, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:

The 30th of May, 1968, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flower, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observation no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War. In fact, several Northern and Southern cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Mississippi; Macon, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; and Carbondale, Illinois.

In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo—which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—because the town ha made Memorial day an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

By the late 1800s, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day and, after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wards. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, ad set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, is celebrated each year on November 11.)

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dad and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.


Memorial Day Fun Facts

  • The number of U.S. armed forces personnel who served in World War II between Dec. 1, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946 was 16.1 million.
  • 24.5 million
    The number of military veterans in the United States in 2004.
  • 17.4 million
    Number of veterans who voted in the 2004 presidential election. Seventy-four percent of veterans cast a ballot, compared with 63% of nonvets.
  • 1.7 million
    The number of female veterans in 2004.
  • 3.9 million
    Number of World War II veterans in 2004. Sixteen percent of all veterans served during World War II.
  • With the addition of four names added to the Vietnam Memorial in 2006 the total is now 58,253 names listed on the Memorial. Approximately 1200 of these are listed as missing (MIA's, POW's, and others).


Other Countries Traditions & Origins

Do other countries have days For Days Similar to Memorial Day? Yes!

  • Australia and New Zealand: Anzac Day, 25 April - is probably Australia's most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day.


  • Israel: Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars is commemorated a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a day of remembrance for those who fell in the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel and in its defense. At 8 P.M. and 11A.M., two minutes of silence are observed. Throughout the country a siren sounds, giving the entire nation the opportunity to remember its debt and express its eternal gratitude to its sons and daughters who gave their lives for the achievement of the country's independence and its continued existence


  • The British Commonwealth: Remembrance Day or Armistice Day (United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and many other Commonwealth countries; and the original name of the holiday internationally) is a day to commemorate the sacrifice of veterans and civilians in World War I, World War II, and other wars. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. The observance is specifically dedicated to members of the armed forces who were killed during war, and was created by King George V of the United Kingdom on 7 November 1919
  • In South Africa, the day is not a public holiday. Commemoration ceremonies are usually held on the following Sunday, at which, as with Australia and Britain, the "Last Post" is played by a bugler followed by the observation of a two-minute silence. The two biggest commemoration ceremonies to mark the event in South Africa are held in Johannesburg, at the Cenotaph (where it has been held for 84 consecutive years), and at the War Memorial at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.



  • Red Poppies: The Flanders poppy has been a part of Armistice or Remembrance Day ritual since the early 1920s and is also increasingly being used as part of ANZAC Day observances. During the First World War, the red poppies were seen to be among the first living plants that sprouted from the devastation of the battlefields of northern France and Belgium. Soldiers' folklore had it that the poppies were vivid red from having been nurtured in ground drenched with the blood of their comrades. The sight of the poppies on the battlefield at Ypres in 1915 moved Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the poem In Flanders Fields.  Flanders poppies also featured prominently in several other literary responses to the carnage of the Western Front. In English literature of the nineteenth century poppies had symbolized sleep or a state of oblivion; this symbolism was carried into the literature of the First World War, but a new, more powerful symbolism was now attached to the poppy - that of the sacrifice of shed blood.


Activities Memorial Day For Kids and Family

How To Make A Patriotic Wind Sock:

    • What You Need:
      • A cylindrical cardboard oatmeal box
      • Construction paper (blue and white)
      • Red and  white crepe paper streamers
      • Glue
      • String
      • Scissors
      • Hole punch
    • Directions:
      • Cut the bottom of a cylindrical cardboard oatmeal box
      • Cover the box with blue construction paper and then glue on white construction paper stars.
      • Cut some red and white crepe paper streamers and glue them to one end of the wind sock.
      • Punch four holes along the top of the wind sock
      • Cut two pieces of string about a foot long. Tie the string to the wind sock (tie the opposite ends of a string to holes on opposite sides of the cylinders.)
      • Tie a longer piece of string to the smaller pieces—you’ll hang the wind sock from this piece of string
      • Hang your patriotic wind sock from your window or porch.

Memorial Day Story:

    • Write a page about a relative or friend who was in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or National Guard. Who was this person (what is their relationship to you), when did this person serve, was it during a war (if so, which one), what did that person do during their service, and what are their recollections of their service?

How To Make A Star Wreath:

    • What You Need:
      • Red, white and blue construction paper
      • A paper plate
      • Scissors
      • Glue
      • Optional - glitter
    • Directions:
      • Cut a large hole in the paper plate
      • Cut out a lot of stars from red, white and blue construction paper.
      • Glue the stars to the paper plate
      • Optional: Decorate the stars with the names of the children or soldiers. Also, glitter is a nice decorative touch.

Memorial Day Story: The Story of Alvin York 

     Alvin York

US soldier and popular hero, born in Pall Mall, Tennessee, USA. His fundamentalist Christian religion taught him to disapprove of war, but he resolved his doubts after joining the army in 1917. While in France, he led a small detachment against a German machine-gun emplacement, in which he killed 25 of the enemy, inducing 132 Germans to surrender. The greatest US hero of World War 1, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and returned home to a ticker-tape parade. He was a founder of the American Legion, and Gary Cooper portrayed him in the movie Sergeant York (1941).

Memorial Day Books, Movies, Poems, Songs


Memorial Day Reference Books Materials

Books For Children:

  • Lets Get Ready for Memorial Day, by Lloyd G. Douglas
  • The Wall, by Eve Bunting
  • Memorial Day Surprise, by Theresa Golding

Books For Teens:

  • Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

Books For Adults and Teachers:

  • We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway
  • Gods and Generals, by Jeff Shaara
  • Band of Brothers. By Stephen E. Ambrose


Memorial Day Traditions, Legends, Stories

How to Celebrate Memorial Day


  • by visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
  • by visiting memorials.
  • by flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon.
  • by flying the 'POW/MIA Flag' as well (Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act).
  • by participating in a National Moment of Rememberance: : at 3 p.m. to pause and think upon the true meaning of the day, and for Taps to be played by renewing a pledge to aid the widows, widowers, and orphans of our falled dead, and to aid the disabled veterans.


Words to “Taps”:
Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep,
peaceful sleep,
May the soldier
or sailor,
God keep.
On the land
or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night,
Must thou go,
When the day,
And the night
Need thee so?
All is well.
Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light;
And afar
Goeth day,
And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well;
Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise,
For our days,
'Neath the sun,
Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.

Memorial Day References Sources Include: usmemorialday.org, history.com, apples4teacher.com, infoplease.com, saintsandheroes.com, enchantedlearning.com, biography.com, awm.gov.au, wikipedia.com

Survey Poll Kamaron Institute
© 2007-2017 Resources Center References | Privacy Policy | A Visible Strategies Communications Site and Kamaron Institute Company
Web Analytics