What Is the Real Meaning of Memorial Day?


Quick Answer

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was made official by the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John Logan, on May 5, 1868. It was initially declared as a day of remembrance for the U.S. soldiers who died during the Civil War, but it eventually became a day of remembrance for American soldiers who died fighting any war.

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Full Answer

On the first Decoration Day, while General James Garfield made a speech, 5,000 people decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. By 1890, the day was recognized by the northern states, but the South rejected the holiday until after World War I, when Memorial Day no longer was a day declared to commemorate Civil War soldiers, but all American soldiers who died in war.

Though more than 24 cities and towns have claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace in May 1966. The holiday became an official holiday in 1971, but was not recognized until 1973, when New York became the first state to acknowledge the holiday. Memorial Day is typically observed by visiting cemeteries or memorials, attending family gatherings or participating in parades.

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