6 Things Every American Should Know About Memorial Day

4. Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns during Memorial Day

Army/Spc. Jacqueline Leeker — Changing of the Guard on Memorial Day The 3d U.S. Infantry conducts a Changing of the Guard, at the Tomb of the Unknowns, during Memorial Day, Monday, May 31, 2010, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial Day is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May. The practice of celebrating it began after the Civil War. People had been in the practice of decorating the graves of veterans before and during the Civil War, but it was always on a very local scale. That cataclysmic event of the Civil War, with its over 700,000 deaths, meant that burial and memorialization to on new cultural significance. In those days, there were memorial day-like ceremonies in both the North and the South, for their respective fallen. Over time, the name for that day gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. This latter name became most common after WWII, but was not declared official until June 28, 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which placed it and three other holidays to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day holiday for each. Memorial Day was moved from its traditional date of May 30th to the last Monday of May.

5. Remembering the Fallen

U.S. troops honor the fallen during a Memorial Day observance in Kuwait

U.S. Army/Spc. Giancarlo Casem — Lt. Gen. Jim Lovelace, U.S. Army Central commanding general, addresses the crowd of service members, civilians, coalition forces troops as well as Kuwaiti soldiers during a Memorial Day observance at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, May 26. More than 4,000 service members are pictured on the wall behind Lovelace which commemorates the sacrifices of those who have fallen during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Troops stationed in Korea, Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, and many other places, will gather that day to remember those who have served just as they are serving now. In some places, like Afghanistan, they will also remember those who have served and died in the war that they are still engaged in. In many of those places, the local people will come to honor those Americans who have fallen fighting for them as well.

6. Protecting the Future

A young patriot waves the American flag at a Memorial Day concert

Flickr/Robert McIver — A young patriot salutes heroes at the 2009 National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol.

On Memorial Day, it is the tradition to raise the flag of the United States briskly to the top of the staff, then to solemnly lower it to half-staff position until noon, when it is raised again to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position is to remember the more than one million men and women who have given their lives for this country. There will be a National Memorial Day Concert on the west lawn of the United States Capitol, which will be broadcast on PBS and NPR. There will be parades held around the country that will be enthusiastically attended by local crowds.

If you live near a military cemetery, or one that has a section dedicated to the military, take your family and attend the ceremonies, or watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS. Then, go and celebrate your family picnics on that three day weekend that has been set aside to remember those that fell in service to the country so that we all could enjoy the freedoms we have.

Learn What Makes Memorial Day Different From Veterans Day: Click “Next” below!

Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.
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