Memorial Day, a federal holiday on the last Monday of May, is a holiday for remembering the war dead. For many, the holiday also signifies the beginning of summer, where millions of people in the nation travel, go shopping and barbecue.
A national ceremony is held at Arlington National Cemetery, which includes a speech from the president. The president also lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to recognize American service members who have died without being identified.
Here are five things you may not have known about Memorial Day:
Where it comes from
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the end of the American Civil War in 1868, where, originally, members of the Grand Army of the Republic would visit and decorate graves of fallen service members with flowers.
The first national observance was at Arlington National Cemetery that same year, although multiple cities claim to be the “birthplace” of the holiday. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and Congress declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace.
It wasn’t always on the last Monday of May
Memorial Day was strictly on May 30th since its inception, because on that date, flowers would be in bloom across the country. In 1971, when it was declared a national holiday, it was placed on the last Monday, along with a few other holidays.
The Ironton Parade
The Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade in Ironton, Ohio is the longest-running Memorial Day parade in the country. It was established as a traditional activity in 1869.
As a result, the parade today has more than 1,800 participants and more than 30,000 people attend each year.
Why the flag is half staff for half of the day
United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(m) states “on Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff, until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.”
The first half of the day is to honor those who died in war, and the second half of the day is to honor war survivors.
Why people wear poppies
Moina Michael, a humanitarian and professor, spearheaded this idea after World War I, inspired by a 1921 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. She wanted to use the poppy as a symbol for remembrance of those who died in World War I.
The symbol was later adopted by American Legion Auxiliary, and now paper poppies are given out in exchange for donations on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
Contact Kristen DeSilva at 702-477-3895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter: @kristendesilva