Interesting Facts About Memorial Day

American flag on a pole in a field

Do you ever lose sight of the importance of something special? Sometimes we do things with so much ritual and regularity that its meaning is lost. Routine and regularity encourages new meaning divorced of original intent. When you think of Memorial Day, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, three things are at or near the top of the list: cookouts, family gatherings, and a day off work. Others high on the list are the end of school and the beginning of summer.

Let’s pause for a moment for some interesting facts I found at Mental Floss about Memorial Day that might help us get back in touch with the original intent for this special day.1

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and began in response to the horrors of the Civil War. Approximately 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died.

In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, put flowers on the graves of their dead from the just-fought Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, a group of women decorated the graves of soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, cemetery. (Thus the name “Decoration Day.”)

In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. In the same month, in Carbondale, Illinois, 219 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Union hero Major General John A. Logan delivered the principal address. The ceremony gave Carbondale its claim to the first organized, community-wide Memorial Day observance.

The name Memorial Day dates back to 1882, but the name “Decoration Day” continued to be used until after World War II. Federal law declared “Memorial Day” the official name in 1967.

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” That is the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns, established at Arlington National Cemetery to inter the remains of the first Unknown Soldier, a World War I fighter, on November 11, 1921. Unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War subsequently were interred in the tomb on Memorial Day 1958.

It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset.

The World War I poem “In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrea, inspired the Memorial Day custom of wearing red artificial poppies. In 1915, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael began a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to veterans and for “keeping the faith with all who died.” The sale of poppies has supported the work of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Thank you to all of those who have served in our armed forces, many with the ultimate sacrifice, to protect our freedom and our way of life.

Happy Memorial Day and God Bless America!

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Aaron Burden. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

From 10 Things To Remember About Memorial Day by David Holzel. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from

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