What Is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a US federal holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, that remembers those who died while serving in the armed forces. It should not be confused with Veterans Day which celebrates the service of all US veterans, Armed Forces Day which honours those currently serving, or Remembrance Day which marks the anniversary of the 1863 Consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.

The inaugural Memorial Day of 1866, then known as Decoration Day, is attributed to the Southern ladies of Columbus, Georgia who laid flowers at the graves of Confederate soldiers as well as those of their Union enemies. Supported by the Ladies’ Memorial Association as part of their wider calls for remembrance, this practice soon spread across the South.

Then in 1868, General John A. Logan, who led the Union veterans’ association The Grand Army of the Republic, was inspired by this act of unity and called for Decoration Day to be observed nationwide. That year, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states, and by 1890 every Northern state had declared it an official state holiday.

In celebration of Memorial Day, the US flag is held at half-staff until noon in memory of those who gave their lives for their country. It is then raised to full-staff to symbolise that their sacrifice was not in vain, and that the living should continue their fight for liberty and justice for all.