Facts About Memorial Day

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Memorial Day isn’t just an excuse to take a long weekend and loaf around eating grilled meats—although those are certainly among the reasons to love the holiday.

So before you head out to your barbecues and pool parties, here are some facts about Memorial Day, everybody’s favorite summer kick-off holiday.

It was originally called Decoration Day

To honor the deceased, soldiers would decorate graves of their fallen comrades with flowers, flags and wreaths. Hence Decoration Day. Although Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s, the holiday wouldn’t legally become Memorial Day until 1967.

It wasn’t always celebrated the last Monday of May

After the Civil War, General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a holiday commemorating fallen soldiers to be observed every May 30. But due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which took effect in 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday of May to ensure long weekends. Some groups, like the veterans’ organization American Legion, have been working to restore the original date to set Memorial Day apart and pay proper tribute to the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives defending the nation.

This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 28.

It’s legally required to observe a National Moment of Remembrance

In December 2000, Congress passed a law requiring Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember and honor the fallen. But this doesn’t appear to be common knowledge, or if it is, by 3 p.m. most people seem to be too deep into a hot dog-induced food coma to officially observe the moment.

James A. Garfield delivered a rather lengthy speech at the first Memorial Day ceremony

Of course then it was still called Decoration Day, and at the time, Garfield was a Civil War General and Republican Congressman, not yet a President. On May 30, 1868, he addressed the several thousand people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery. “If silence is ever golden,” Garfield said, “it must be beside the graves of 15,000 men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung.”

Several states observe Confederate Memorial Day

In addition to the national holiday, nine states officially set aside a day to honor those who died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War: Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. The days vary, but only Virginia observes Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of May, in accordance with the federal observance of Memorial Day.

Waterloo, New York is considered the birthplace of Memorial Day

According to Waterloo’s website, in 1966 Congress unanimously passed a resolution to officially recognize Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. However, it remains a contentious debate, with other towns, like Boalsburg, Pa., claiming the title of “Birthplace of Memorial Day” as well.

More than 36 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home this Memorial Day

At least, according to AAA estimates. That’s the highest total since the recession.

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Memorial Day Facts

Interesting Memorial Day Facts:
The true origins of who held the first Memorial Day celebration is a debated subject.
Approximately 620,000 soldiers on both sides died during the Civil War.
The Grand Army of the Republic was created by the Union Army to honor their dead. After World War I the American Legion took over their duties.
Congress passed a law in 2000 that requires all Americans to stop what they are doing at 3pm on Memorial Day to remember and to honor those who have died serving the United States. President Clinton signed this action.
The flag is supposed to be flown at half-mast until noon, and then raised to full mast until sunset on Memorial Day.
The tradition of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day originated from John McCrae’s 1915 poem In Flanders Fields. In Canada they wear red poppies to honor their soldiers on Remembrance Day in November each year.
Although not as popular today, one tradition was to eat a picnic meal while sitting on the ground of a cemetery. There are still some people in the rural areas of the South that continue to practice this tradition.
It’s common for volunteers to place the American flag on graves in the national cemeteries. Memorial Day is also a popular day for people to visit cemeteries and honor those who have died while serving in the military.
It’s estimated that approximately 32 million people travel by car over Memorial Day weekend.
Memorial Day also marks the beginning of the summer vacation season while Labor Day marks the end.
In some areas of the rural South, they hold annual Decoration Days around this time for certain cemeteries, often in the mountains.
Memorial Day is sometimes confused with Veterans Day. However, Veterans Day honors all United States military veterans, while Memorial Day honors the soldiers who died while serving.
In 1966, President Johnson named Waterloo, New York as the original place of Memorial Day.
There were more American lives lost during the Civil War then the two World Wars combined. Approximately 620,000 died during the Civil War while approximately 116,516 died in World War I and approximately 405,399 died in World War II.
There are more than 300,000 fallen soldiers buried at Arlington Cemetery. On average, there are 28 burials there each day.
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia celebrate Confederate Memorial Day. These are former Confederate states, and they celebrate on various other days ranging from January 19th to June 3rd.
In 2012 there was a movie made called Memorial Day. John and James Cromwell and Jonathan Bennett starred in the film. The story revolves around a 13 year old boy who finds his grandpa’s footlocker from the 2nd World War.
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