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Memorial Day: Honoring the Fallen

  • Memorial Day: Honoring the Fallen
Memorial Day: Honoring the Fallen

Thursday, May 16, 2024 – Wednesday, June 12, 2024
East Rotunda Gallery

Memorial Day recognizes and honors the U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the Armed Forces. The first national observance of Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. General John A. Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” More than 5,000 people attended the tribute in Washington, DC, decorating the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Originally known as Decoration Day, New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday to honor fallen soldiers and sailors. By the 1890s, most states had adopted May 30 as a Decoration Day holiday. Following World War I, the practice of Memorial Day became much more widespread as an occasion to honor fallen service members from all of America’s wars.

Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30 until Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, designating it a national holiday on the last Monday in May 1971. Congress once again took up the cause of honoring fallen service members in 2000, passing the National Moment of Remembrance Act. At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, all Americans are encouraged to pause for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation.

Public Law 90-363: An Act to Provide for Uniform Annual Observances of Certain Legal Public Holidays on Mondays, and for Other Purposes, June 28, 1968. National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government View in National Archives Catalog

Congress passed Public Law 90-363 in 1968. Known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, it established uniform days for nine federal holidays. When it took effect on January 1, 1971, the act designated the last Monday in May as Memorial Day, replacing the traditional date of May 30.

Public Law 90-363: An Act to Provide for Uniform Annual Observances of Certain Legal Public Holidays on Mondays, and for Other Purposes, June 28, 1968. National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government
View in National Archives Catalog

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Featured Image: U.S. Air Force members hold a flag-draped coffin during a full-honor funeral for U.S. Air Force Second Lieutenant Richard Vandegeer at Arlington National Cemetery, October 27, 2000. National Archives, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense View in National Archives Catalog

image of soldiers carrying a coffin draped in an American flag

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