In Remembrance: A Brief History of Memorial Day

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Washington D.C.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Washington D.C.

Richard Duane Klug (the name just above the rose) was born January 26, 1946. He died in Darlac Province, Vietnam, November 14, 1967 at the age of 21. He is one of over 58,000 American soldiers that died in Vietnam, and one of over 1.1 million American soldiers that have died in all American wars (almost half of them in the Civil War).

It is with a profound sense of gratitude that I reflect on the lives of those who gave, in Lincoln’s words, “the last full measure of devotion” on behalf of their country.

Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.

One of the first celebrations was announced by The Grand Army of the Republic on May 5 1868. “Decoration Day”, as it was initially called by the G.A.R., began with ceremonies May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. Various Washington officials, including General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the Grand Army of the Republic made their way through the cemetery, spreading flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns. Other dates were celebrated as Decoration Day in different parts of the country. While the name Decoration Day continues to this day, the name gradually shifted to Memorial Day.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. It was not until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.