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The History of Memorial Day – Why We Must Remember the Fallen!

Memorial Day is one of the most highly regarded commemorative holidays celebrated in America.

Recognized nationally as a Federal holiday and day of remembrance, it is also a day that military history museums throughout the country hold special events to further acknowledge the military and its importance in keeping America safe and free.

Living history museums also play a big part in helping people of all ages truly understand the difficult tasks that our military forces have faced over the years and why it is so important to remember those who have given their lives to ensure America’s freedom and sovereignty.

The Origin of Memorial Day in America

America has recognized its dead soldiers since just a few years after the Civil War when Decoration Day became an annual observation.

Decoration Day, a day for decorating the tombstones of the soldiers lost in the War as a means of remembrance, began in 1868.

It was established on May 5th, with Maj. Gen. John A. Logan of the U.S. Army declaring that May 30th be the day as blooming flowers could be used to decorate the graves.

Decoration Day did become an official day nationwide at that time, but local towns and cities had already been having their own springtime remembrances, some as early as two years prior to the official day being named.

Women from the town would gather flowers to decorate the tombstones of fallen soldiers, the start of what would become a tradition that is still practiced to this day as a sign of respect.

It was happening all over the country, especially in the south where many of the Civil War dead were buried, with families and townspeople going to various lengths to remember fallen soldiers.

Decoration Day Becomes Memorial Day

Though there has been much disagreement over where these practices actually began, in 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson did eventually declare the “birthplace” of Memorial Day to be Waterloo, New York.

Research revealed that it was on May 5th, 1866 that the first community-wide event took place in commemoration of fallen Civil War soldiers.

Businesses closed, flags were set at half-staff, a ceremony was held, and tombstones were decorated, an event much like the way Memorial Day is celebrated today in towns and cities across the country.

May 30th, the date of the original Decoration Day, became a national event recognized by the Army and Navy and expanded to include significance for not just Civil War veterans, but those being remembered for their sacrifice in any war.

In 1971, Memorial Day as we know it today was declared a Federal holiday by Congress and set for the last Monday in May.

Now special events like parades and living history reenactments at American GI museums frequently mark the occasion. 

A Day of Respect, Recognition, and Remembrance

Today, Memorial Day is still much more than a day off work for those who understand its significance, perhaps even mourning their own family members killed in past wars.

It is a time when Americans stop to respect those who lost their lives so that we could remain free, recognizing the sacrifice that these members of our military have made.

While many localities will hold events and ceremonies to remember their town’s fallen soldiers, military history museums across the country will be holding events, too.

Living history museums provide a unique chance for history buffs, military history enthusiasts, students, and thankful Americans to learn in an environment that makes an impact in a visually impactive way.

Visit the Museum of the American G.I. This Memorial Day

Whether viewing military exhibits, watching reenactments, or witnessing demonstrations of military vehicles and artillery, there is much to be learned at living history museums and no better day to learn it on than Remembering the Fallen.

This year, pay your respects and remember the past by learning about life as a soldier firsthand at the Museum of the American G.I. during our Remembering the Fallen week, May 25th to 29th, 2022.

There will be special Memorial Day displays to see at the living history museum, our noteworthy Vietnam Heroes exhibit and more.

Then on Sunday, May 29th, a 21-gun salute with 105 Howitzers will bring our week-long remembering our fallen heroes to a close.

Remember The Fallen This Memorial Day!


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