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On Memorial Day, What Does The Law Say You’re Supposed To Do?

Each year in the United States, Americans observe the Federal holiday, Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. It honors and remembers all men and women who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Memorial Day is also a day to remember all loved ones who have passed away.

  • 1864 – Women from Pennsylvania place flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • 1865 – On May 1, 1865—less than two weeks before the end of the Civil War—newly freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, held a ceremony reburying fallen Union soldiers with a proper burial. Even though it came before the Waterloo event (and many other decoration days), experts don’t consider it the first Memorial Day because it didn’t directly lead to the federal holiday.
  • 1866 – About two dozen towns across the United States claim they were the first to celebrate Memorial (or Decoration) Day. The U.S. government gives Waterloo, New York, the official “birthplace” title, though there were informal celebrations before the village’s May 5, 1866, event.
  • 1868 – On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose. The observance was called Decoration Day, and it was observed on May 30th, 1868.
  • 1914 – It was initially designed just for the Civil War.  For more than 100 years, Memorial Day was reserved for honoring the lives of Civil War soldiers. The holiday didn’t expand to casualties of all American wars until after World War I.
  • 1968 – Then, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday of May.
  • 2000 – Congress passed a law in December of 2000 that requires Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to honor the fallen soldiers. For most people, this law isn’t common knowledge since typically people are indulging in hot dogs and beer.
  • 2020 – The American Veterans (AMVETS) holds a virtual motorcycle rally in honor of Memorial Day.
  • Traditionally on Memorial Day, the flag of the United States of America is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position where it remains until noon.
  • At noon, it is then raised to full staff for the remainder of the day.
  • When the flag is at half-staff, the position is in remembrance of the more than one million men and women who gave their lives for their country.
  • Raising the flag at noon signifies the nation’s lives, that the country is resolved not to let their sacrifice be in vain but to rise in their honor and continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.
  • In the United States, Memorial Day traditionally marks the beginning of summer.
  • General Logan chose the date because it didn’t fall on the same day as the anniversary of any particular battle. But it’s also thought that he chose that date because flowers would be blooming all around America. So the blooms would be abundantly available for decorating soldiers’ graves, according to the Library of Congress.
  • General James Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery with Generals Grant, Howard, Logan, Pane, Wool, and Hancock in attendance. Volunteers also decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
  • Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day and now honors all U.S. service members who have died during a military conflict. Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30th for many years.
  • During the Civil War, a U.S. general thought the bugle call signaling bedtime could use a more melodious tune, so he wrote the notes for “Taps” in 1862. Another officer later used the bugle song for a funeral, fearing the traditional firing of rifles might sound like an attack. Now, “Taps” is a traditional part of Memorial Day celebrations.
  • Forty-five million veterans have served our country during wartime. As of last year, there were a projected 15 million living wartime veterans in the United States.
  • Apart from the federal Memorial Day, some of the southern states also celebrate the Confederate Memorial Day in honor of those who died fighting for the Confederate States during the Civil War. Different states observe this holiday on different days.
  • The Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, is one of the largest cemeteries in the world, with over 400,000 graves and over 300,000 fallen veterans.
  • 620,000 – the number of soldiers who died on both sides of the Civil War.
  • 2500 – the number of motorcyclists who participated in the first Rolling Thunder rally.
  • $1.5 billion – the amount of money typically spent on meat and seafood in preparation for Memorial Day weekend.
  • 60% – the percentage of American households who attend or host a barbecue on this day.
  • 1.5 million – the number of people who watch the National Memorial Day Parade.
  • 900,000 – the number of people who gathered for the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle rally in 2019.
  • 260,000 – the number of graves at Arlington National Cemetery adorned with flags in 2019.
  • 45 million – the number of men and women who have served in a time of war for the U.S.

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