The following is taken from The American Patriot’s Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, is the day we honor Americans who gave their lives in military service.
This holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Immediately after the way, various towns in the North and South began to set aside days to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags. Those earliest memorial observances occurred in Waterloo, New York; Columbus, Mississippi; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and several other places.
The first widespread observance of Decoration Day came on May 30, 1868, which Maj. Gen. John A. Logan proclaimed as a day to honor the dead. General James Garfield (later the twentieth U.S. president) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in remembrance of doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” Afterward, 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
Over the years the day became an occasion to remember the dead in all American wars, and came to be known as Memorial Day.
On the Thursday before Memorial Day, in a tradition known as “Flags-in,” the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small flags before more than a quarter million gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol twenty-four hours a day to make sure each flag remains standing throughout the weekend. On Memorial Day the president or vice president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the cemetery.
According to the U.S. flag code, American flags should be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the pole. At 3:00 p.m. local time, all Americans are asked to pause for a moment of remembrance.
On May 29, 2004, America dedicated the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., which pays tribute to all Americans who served in history’s most terrible war. Inscribed near a wall honoring those who gave their lives in World War II is a simple statement from Harry S. Truman: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
At this time of year, when Americans kick off their summers with holiday weekend vacations and barbecues, it is good to pause and remember our countrymen who have answered the call to serve, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifices.
Conflict U.S. Military Deaths
Revolutionary War (1775-1783) 25,000
War of 1812 (1812-1815) 20,000
Mexican War (1846-1848) 13,300
Civil War (1861-1865)
Spanish-American War (1898) 2,500
World War I (1917-1918) 116,500
World War II (1941-1945) 405,400
Korean War (1964-1973) 36,600
Vietnam War (1964-1973) 58,200
Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) 380
Afghanistan (2001-present) 500+
Iraq War (2003-2011) 4,700