Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, is a Federal holiday to commemorate U.S. soldiers who have died while in the military service. The holiday was first enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the Civil War. After World War I, it was extended to honor all American who have died in all wars.
General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed Memorial Day on May 5, 1868. It was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. May 30th was chosen as the official date because it was not the anniversary of a battle.
Memorial Day grew across the nation. There were events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868. By 1890, all northern states recognized the holiday. Memorial Day was officially declared by Federal law in 1967. Under the Uniform Holidays Bill enacted in 1971, the date changed from May 30th to the last Monday in May to create a unified holiday weekend.
The original tradition of Memorial Day is still observed, although Americans have added traditions over the years. Many visit cemeteries to attend memorial services and place flowers on graves. American flags are flown at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Americans have adapted the observance of the long holiday weekend to have picnics, family gatherings, shopping, and barbeques. The Indianapolis 500 has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. The legendary auto race runs on Sunday preceding Memorial Day.
To help remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in December 2000. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm local time. The resolution asks that at 3 pm local time all Americans “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’.”