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Memorial Day (sometimes called Decoration Day) is a patriotic holiday in the United States that was originally established to honor military personnel who died in the Civil War (1861-1865). The holiday now honors those who died in any war while serving in the United States Armed Forces. (Note: It is important to note that the immediate family of those service members that have been killed-in-action are authorized by the Department of Defense to display the “Gold Star Service Banner”.)
Memorial Day is a legal holiday observed on the last Monday in May. This date was made a federal holiday by a law that became effective in 1971.
In accordance with US Code Title 4, Section 6 (d)the US Flag should be flown at half staff until noon on Memorial Day. Traditionally, people also place flowers and flags on the graves of military personnel on Memorial Day. Many organizations, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and fraternal groups, march in military parades and take part in special programs. These programs often include the reading of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”. Memorials are often dedicated on this day. Military exercises and special programs are held at Gettysburg National Military Park and at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Since the end of World War I, Memorial Day has also been Poppy Day. Volunteers sell small, red artificial poppies in order to help disabled veterans. In recent years, the custom has grown in most families to decorate the graves of loved ones on Memorial Day.
Several communities claim to have originated Memorial Day. But in 1966, the U. S. government proclaimed Waterloo, New York, the birthplace of the holiday. The people of Waterloo first observed Memorial Day on May 5, 1866, to honor soldiers killed in the Civil War.
Major General John A. Logan in 1868 named May 30 as a special day for honoring the graves of Union Soldiers. Logan served as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War. They had charge of Memorial Day celebrations in the Northern States for many years. The American Legion took over this duty after World War I.
Dr. Whitney Smith