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What Memorial Day Means to Americans

May 21 2022

What Memorial Day Means to Americans

Memorial Day honors Americans in the armed forces who died in service to their country. The holiday takes place every last Monday of May when summer arrives, schools and universities close and holidays begin. This year it will occur on Monday, May 30, 2022.

Background of memorial day

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971, after which the official date becomes the last Monday in May. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, hosting family reunions, and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.

In 1868, Decoration Day was declared a holiday in the Northern United States on May 30. It was a day to pay tribute to the soldiers who died during the civil war. Other civilians, including freed slaves, took part in cleaning and decorating the graves of soldiers.  On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 attendees decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor the dead on separate days until after World War I.

In 1966, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day and officially replaced Decoration Day. Originally, Memorial Day honored only the victims of the Civil War. But during World War I, the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American servicemen who died in all wars, including World War II, Vietnam, the Korean War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Medal of Honor recipients in 2021

On Memorial Day of 2021, President Joe Biden awarded three soldiers with the Medical of Honor. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe and Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz received the country’s highest military honor posthumously while Army Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee received it in person.

Cashe received the award for his military actions in Iraq over 17 years ago. On October 17, 2005, he rescued six of his troops and an Iraqi interpreter from a burning vehicle. Although the flames engulfed him, he continued to return to the vehicle until everyone had escaped. In Afghanistan, Celiz earned the award for his bravery and selflessness on July 12, 2018.  He stood between enemy fire and fellow troops as they carried a wounded ally to safety.

Plumlee rescued fellow Special Forces teammates when insurgents invaded a forward operating base’s perimeter in an attack.  For his bravery, he received a medal.” Today we honor three outstanding soldiers whose actions embody the highest ideals of selfless service,’ Biden Said during the award ceremony. “ We also remember the high price our military members and their families are willing to pay on behalf of our nation.”

Traditions of Memorial Day

Although Memorial Day is based on dark and emotional memories, it is also a day to celebrate freedom. To honor those who have given their lives for these freedoms, in the US or abroad, Americans revel in barbecues, music, colorful parades and lots of ice-cold beer. All this is with the family and marks the start of the summer season.

Among the traditions of Memorial Day Weekend is the Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle parade that brings thousands of veterans to Washington on a long motorized cavalcade along the National Mall where the major war memorials are located. Another tradition: a minute of silence at 3 p.m. This “ National Moment of Remembrance ” can be respected both at home and in the public space.

It is also common to see soldiers dressed in replicas of the uniforms worn by Revolutionary War soldiers. The soldiers match in the uniform to honor those who fought and died in the founding of the United States of America. Some lay military boots in front of the black wall of the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, engraved with the names of the more than 58,000 Americans who died during the Vietnam War. American soldiers place flags on a service member's grave during the regiment's "Flags In" ceremony on Memorial Day, at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

On Memorial Day, families also picnic next to the military cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  The greatest number of victims of the Civil War in the United States were buried in this cemetery.

Finally, Memorial Day is not the only day that honors Americans who have served in the armed forces and those who have fought in conflicts. Armed Forces Day takes place on the 3rd Saturday in May. Veterans Day, a public holiday, is celebrated on November 11.

Happy Memorial Day!


As you celebrate Memorial Day, take time to remember all those heroes who gave their lives so that we can be free. Also, take time off work and enjoy the day with your family.