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9 Interesting Memorial Day Facts

The military origins of this holiday.

The grave markers of fallen heroes

Memorial Day—it’s a solemn day for military families. It’s a time of remembering those who’ve paid for their service with the ultimate sacrifice. It’s also a day overshadowed with the possibility that our loved one may be called to do the same. Here are some things worth knowing about this important observance

1)  Memorial Day didn’t officially become a federal holiday until 1971. It began in May of 1868 when General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of Grand Army of the Republic (a Union veterans’ group) issued a decree that May 30 should recognized nationwide as day to commemorate the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. He referred to it as Decoration Day. That first year, 27 states adopted the holiday. By 1890 all the states had declared it a state holiday, but for 50 years it only commemorated those killed during the Civil War. 

2)  The date of May 30 was chosen because it was a day that didn’t fall on a Civil War battle anniversary. 

3)  When Memorial Day was officially adopted as a federal holiday, the date was changed to the last Monday in May. Many veterans’ organizations were concerned that the American public would focus on the fact that the weekend marked the start to summer vacation season and lose its original intent. In fact many organizations are still fighting to have the date changed back to the original May 30. 

4)  One Memorial Day tradition is to have all flags fly at half-staff until noon, then raised to the top of the staff. The first part of the day is in honor of those who sacrificed their lives while serving. The second part of the day honors those who are still with us.

5)  In 2000, Congress passed the National Monument of Remembrance Act which requires all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. to remember and honor those who have died serving their country. This one-minute moment of remembrance is recognized by many large companies to this day.

6)  Where was the first Memorial Day celebrated? That is still hotly debated. There are several places that claim the honor including Warrington, Virginia; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Savannah, Georgia. 

7)  Wearing red poppies, a popular Memorial Day tradition, originated, in part, from a poem, In Flanders Fields, written by Lieutenant-Colonial John McCrae in 1915. 

8)  In 1924, faced with a shortage of poppies, the first artificial poppy factory was opened in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. It employed out-of-work veterans.

9)  One long-standing Memorial Day tradition, to honor our late veterans and troops, is to have a picnic on the grounds of a military cemetery.

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