Memorial Day is a long weekend often reserved for enjoying the beginning of summer. We barbecue, hang out with friends, family, and relax. But let’s not forget the history behind our celebrations. Here are 5 things to know about this Memorial Day.
1. Memorial Day Used to Have a Different Name
Before the 1880s, mentioning Memorial Day would’ve probably gotten you a confused look. That’s because the holiday was originally known as Decoration Day. It was a day when family and friends would honor those who died serving the country by decorating their graves with flowers (poppies are still the flora of choice). It would take almost a century for the celebration to officially be renamed by the government.
2. It’s a “Young” Holiday
Though we’ve been honoring our fallen soliders since the 1800s, Memorial Day didn’t become a federal holiday until 1971. When the day was first observed as Decoration Day, it was only used to recognize those killed in the Civil War, not in any other American conflict. World War I prompted the country to expand the meaning of the holiday, recognizing members of the military killed in any war. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.
3. We Have Someone to Thank for the Holiday
Believe it or not, one person can claim credit for coming up with the idea of a Memorial Day. In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, decreed that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. He reportedly chose May 30th because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle. It also helps that by May 30th, flowers are sure to be in full bloom.
4. The Flag Flies at Half Staff
In case you have a flag pole in your front yard, it’s a good thing to remember that because this holiday honors fallen soldiers, your flag should be flying at half-staff until noon.
5. US War Casualties
- Revolutionary War – Approximately 26,000 Americans, “Patriots” died.
- Civil War – Approximately 620,000 Americans died. The Union lost almost 365,000 troops and the Confederacy about 260,000. More than half of these deaths were caused by disease.
- World War I– 116,516 Americans died, more than half from disease.
- World War II– 405,399 Americans died.
- Korean War– 36,574 Americans died.
- Vietnam Conflict– 58,220 Americans died.
- Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm– 383 service members died.
- Operation Iraqi Freedom– 4,421 service members died.
- Operation New Dawn– 73 service members died.
- Operation Enduring Freedom– 2,350 service members died.
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – 22 service members have died as of April 2017.