Memorial Day has been observed in the United States for nearly 150 years, with origins dating back to the Civil War years when Southern women’s groups organized the decoration of soldiers’ graves. It is a national federal holiday observed in remembrance of those who have died in service to the United States.
The holiday was first formally observed on May 30, 1868, when the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers at Arlington National Cemetery. It wasn’t until after World War I, however, that the southern states joined with the northern states to observe the day as a national holiday. This only occurred after the meaning of the day changed to honor Americans who died fighting any war, including those who fought for the Confederates during the Civil War.
Today, traditional observance of the holiday is less than in other decades although there are notable exceptions.
The U.S. Army 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known by its nickname “The Old Guard,” places American flags at each of the more than 260,000 graves in Arlington National Cemetery and patrols for 24 hours to ensure the flags stay upright, a tradition started in the 1950′s. Boy and Girl Scout troops around the country perform similar services for the graves of war heroes. And the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol hosts a free concert the day before Memorial Day.
Formal observance of the Memorial Day includes the following:
- Wear red poppies to honor those who died serving the United States during war
- At 3pm local time, all Americans should pause either for a moment of silence or to listen to “Taps”
- Visit local cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of veterans
- Visit a national memorial, like the Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) located outside of Arlington National Cemetery, or any number of war memorials located across the country
- Attend a parade in your local town or city to honor fallen heroes
- Observe proper flag etiquette for the day: the flag should be at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff for the rest of the day