Many have a misconception about Memorial Day. They think it is a day to thank a veteran or active military member for their service. Also, for many it is the kick off for summer and a weekend of cookouts, the beach, picnics and fun. You often hear the words, “Have a happy Memorial Day!”

While Memorial Day is a time for all of those activities they are not true to the reason we mark the day.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. A day to remember and honor those who died in service of the United States.

Watch Below as Ronald Reagan Expresses the Meaning of Memorial Day

First known as Decoration Day, the original purpose was to honor those who died in the American civil war.


On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. –

During World War I the meaning of the day evolved to encompass all military personnel who died in all wars, conflicts, or service.


In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. – US Memorial Day

You may see people outside local stores with Red Poppies asking for donations to help veterans.

In 1971 after Congress had earlier passed the National Holiday Act the observance of Memorial Day was changed to the last Monday of May instead of the 30th. This was to give federal workers a three day weekend.


In the year 2000, then President Clinton established a “National Moment of Remembrance” on each Memorial Day.

Accordingly, I hereby direct all executive departments and agencies, in consultation with the White House Program for the National Moment of Remembrance (Program), to promote a “National Moment of Remembrance” to occur at 3 p.m. (local time) on each Memorial Day.

Encouraging individual department and agency personnel, and Americans everywhere, to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all. – US Memorial Day

So on this Memorial Day honor those who gave all for us by going to a remembrance ceremony and visit a cemetery to place a flag or red poppy (or any flowers) on the grave of a fallen hero. Then go have some fun with your family and friends!

Featured image of a Boy Scout saluting at the foot of a grave after volunteers placed flags in preparation for Memorial Day at the Los Angeles National Cemetery by Richard Vogel, AP

Memorial Day California