Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that is celebrated on the last Monday of every May and honors the men and women who have died serving the country’s military. Originally the holiday was known as Decoration Day and started as a way to honor the 620 thousand Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the American Civil War. It began as a way to honor the soldiers and heal the wounds between the two regions. It shifted in the twentieth century to commemorate all Americans who died in the armed forces. It is a day for visiting grave sites and memorials, and it’s common for people to place American flags as well as flowers on soldier’s graves. It is also traditional practice to quickly raise the American flag to the top of the flagpole and then slowly lower it down to half-staff, remaining like this until noon. At that time the flag is then raised again to the top of the pole as a symbol of the country’s strength and as a reminder that the soldier’s sacrifices were not in vain. Parades are also held on this holiday, on large and small scales, featuring marching bands and servicemen, from the National Guard to military veterans. In smaller towns it’s common for the parades to feature students in the band. The famous auto-race, the Indianapolis 500, also runs on Memorial Day, or the Sunday before, and has been doing so since 1911.
On the lawn of United States Capitol, the National Memorial Day Concert takes place every year and is broadcast on NPR and PBS.
The first large scale and publicized Memorial Day observance took place in 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Over 10,000 people, including 3,000 school children, showed up to remember and honor the dead. Charleston was where at least 257 Union soldiers died as prisoners of war during the Civil War, and buried in unmarked graves. The ceremony was organized by Charleston’s black residents, who cleaned up the burial ground and built an enclosure for it with an arch that read “Martyrs of the Race Course.” The event was covered by several newspapers, including the New York Tribune. While many refer to this as the beginning of the Memorial Day tradition, it is not recognized that way officially. That would be Waterloo, New York, officially proclaimed the Memorial Day birthplace by President Johnson in 1966. This is still not agree upon, however, and many other places claim the right instead including Boalsburg, Pennsylvania and Carbondale, Illinois. Most of these places do not have much in way of proof for their claims.
Memorial Day also marks the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation season and is observed by most businesses.
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