Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is more than just a great excuse for a cookout and a day off from work. The holiday was created to honor the many American men and women who died in military service. This focus on those who made the ultimate sacrifice sets it apart from Veterans’ Day, which honors all military veterans, living and dead.
The day was originally set aside to remember Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but following World War I, its scope expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. At the end of the Civil War, many U.S. cities held their own memorial observations for their hometown heroes. The idea for a specific holiday came in 1868 from Illinois Senator John Alexander Logan, a former Union general and keynote speaker at one early observation. Logan used his position as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union soldiers, to issue a proclamation for a national “Decoration Day” to be observed on May 30 of that year by decorating the tombs of Union soldiers.
Beginning about 15 years later, an alternate name, “Memorial Day,” started cropping up from to time to time. The new name became more common after World War II, and in 1967 was declared the official name by Federal law. Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving four holidays — Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day — to designated Mondays in order to create the ever-popular three-day weekends. (Veterans Day eventually reverted to its traditional Nov. 11 date, which mirrors Armistice Day celebrations in several European nations).