History of the United States
Memorial Day

Why do we observe Memorial Day?

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2015-05-19 13:23:35
2015-05-19 13:23:35

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It was first declared by General John Alexander Logan, a Union general during the Civil War and the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization), on May 5, 1868 in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery when the graves of those who had died during the US Civil War, both Union and Confederate, were decorated with flowers.

Decoration Day was first recognized by the state of New York in 1873 and by 1890 it was recognized by most of the northern states. The southern states, however, refused to acknowledge May 30th. Instead each state of the south had their own "Memorial Day" like holiday, calling it by different names. It was also on different days of the year in each state.

After World War I Decoration Day was expanded to honor all US military personnel who had died during all wars or military actions in which the United States has been involved. It wasn't until then that the southern states began to observe May 30th, but they still celebrate their original holidays as well.

Decoration Day generally became known as Memorial Day, and in May 1966 President Lyndon Baines Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York as being the birthplace of Memorial Day. However, there are many places that still claim that they were the birthplace of Memorial Day. It was not until 1967 that President Johnson signed the legislation officially changing the name "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day."

In 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson. This legislation moved several holidays from their traditional dates to a Monday to give federal employees three-day weekends. This bill took effect on January 1, 1971. Memorial Day was one of the days affected and after being on May 30th for 103 years, it was moved to the last Monday in the month of May. This move is believed to be at least partly responsible for the significance of Memorial Day being altered from honoring those that gave their lives for their country to just being the unofficial start of summer.

Since 1999 there have been bills in the US Senate and House of Representatives to move Memorial Day back to its original date of May 30, but they are still in Committee and nothing has been decided.

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