For some people, Memorial Day means the start of summer, a long weekend to kick back, relax and enjoy the lake or a steak. For others, it is a time to remember veterans who gave their lives for the country.
Each service member, living and dead, means something to their communities, families and fellow service members.
According to VA.gov, Memorial Day has been recognized in some form since 1866, just after the Civil War. Though relatively informal, Union veterans organized Decoration Day to decorate the graves of the recently buried soldiers.
In 1868, Decoration Day was more organized and widespread than the original recognitions in 1866, when only 25 cities celebrated.
After World War I, Memorial Day was observed in honor of all those who died in American wars, not just the Civil War as it had mostly been recognized before. Over 150 years after the first Decoration Day, the practice continues and serves as a time to remember the more than 1 million lives lost in military service, as well as the millions of veterans who died after serving.
- People who served in the Civil War: 3.26 million
- People who died in the Civil War: 500,000+
- People who served in WWI: 4.73 million
- People who died in WWI: 116,516
- People who served in WWII: 16.11 million
- People who died in WWII: 405,399
- People who served the Korean War: 5.72 million
- People who died in the Korean War: 54,246
- People who served in the Vietnam War: 8.74 million
- People who died in the Vietnam War: 90,220
- People who served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 8.74 million
- People who died in Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 1,948
- People who have served post 9/11: 7.2 million
- People who have died serving post 9/11: 25,150-plus
In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, officially to be recognized on the last Monday in May. Some say spring was chosen because flowers would be in bloom, and because it was not too close to other holidays. Cemeteries around the nation are decorated with American flags, flowers and other decorations during May, often on graves of those who served and those who did not.
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