May 24, 2021

Originally called Decoration Day, the first Memorial Day was celebrated a year after the end of the Civil War in May 1866 in Waterloo, New York. Many other cities also celebrated that year by decorating the graves of fallen soldiers. It continued as an annual tradition and in 1868, General John A. Logan called for them to be consolidated into a national Decoration Day on May 30. General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington Cemetery and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 soldiers.

Line of headstones with flags on them at Arlington National Cemetery
Every year over Memorial Day weekend, over 142,000 visitors come to Arlington National Cemetery to honor those who are laid to rest in these hallowed grounds.

It continued as an annual observance officially as Decoration Day though many referred to it as Memorial Day as they used it to remember more than the military dead. It was also a day to remember family and friends who had passed on. It wasn’t until 1968 when Congress officially made it a national holiday as Memorial Day and set the day as the last Monday in May each year. In a 1982 address at Arlington National Cemetery, Ronald Reagan remarked, "The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply."

"Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply." - Ronald Reagan

This new three day holiday weekend became the unofficial beginning of summer and the remembrance of our war dead evolved into parties and barbecues and less somber activities. Veterans groups and others worried that the real reason for the holiday would be diluted or even lost.

Veteran presenting the colors (US Flag)
Close to 1,350,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country. There are about 19 million veterans today.

However, many Americans have found a way to do both. The three day weekend provides plenty of time for fun activities such as picnics, boating, parades, barbecues, parties, campouts, etc. Many Americans take a trip with the top five Memorial Day weekend destinations being Nashville, New Orleans, Moab, Miami Beach and Las Vegas. Our national parks are very popular that weekend with several reporting it as their busiest weekend of the year. Others prefer to avoid the crowds and stay close to home using it as a weekend for home projects while still taking time to barbecue some burgers or roast some hot dogs.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park with a colorful sunset in the background
Arches and Moab report the Memorial Day weekend is their busiest of the year. - P.C. Wyatt Peterson

Whatever fun activities Americans have scheduled, there are still many who will visit a cemetery to put flowers on the graves of loved ones gone and decorate the graves of veterans and fallen soldiers. And take a moment to reflect on their ultimate sacrifice in preserving our great country and the freedoms we enjoy.

"Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay." - Barack Obama

Whatever activities you have planned for that weekend, please consider some way in which you can remember those who have served our country and for those who have paid the ultimate price. Here are a few suggestions you might consider as you make your Memorial Day Weekend plans.

  1. Reach out to a veteran or member of our armed forces in person or on social media and thank them for their service.
  2. Fly an American flag.
  3. Brush up on your American history.
  4. Donate to a veteran’s charity.
  5. Shop at a veteran owned business.
  6. Watch a patriotic movie.
  7. Visit your local cemetery and post mini flags at the graves of soldiers.
  8. Attend a Memorial Day parade.
  9. Send a care package to deployed military personnel.
  10. Help out the family of a deployed soldier with a service project.
  11. Visit a veteran and listen to their stories.
  12. Attend a local memorial service for veterans.
  13. Check out your family history for veterans and learn something about them.
  14. Reach out to the surviving family member of a veteran.
‭Iwo Jima Memorial just outside Arlington Nation Cemetery
Flag raising on Iwo Jima in WW2 – Memorial made from iconic pic by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal 1945

However you choose to celebrate the Memorial Day Weekend, please consider taking one minute from your activities for a moment of silence at 3 pm local time for the National Moment of Remembrance.

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