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Memorial Day: The Most American Holiday

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EDITOR NOTE: To respect an American tradition we’ve been honoring since the end of the Civil War, we at GSI Exchange are at home, with our families, grateful for our freedoms, and thankful to the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who have, in countless ways, braved the battlegrounds across the world--risking life and limb--to preserve the spirit that vitalizes what we simply refer to as “the American way of life.” Let’s remember that in the face of a grave threat--from the trenches in Europe to the jungles of Vietnam to the urban, desert, and mountainous landscapes across numerous battle zones in the Middle East--no politics and no bipartisan differences exist. It’s all about the person next to you. Many of us Americans will never truly understand what this means in practice, though we can understand how it works in theory. But if we can learn anything from our brave soldiers who have fought for America, whether they were fortunate enough to come back home, or whether they made their eternal homes in their final sacrificial act, it’s the person next to us, our neighbors, our fellow Americans, no matter how different they are, that America relies on--to negotiate, to understand, to collaborate--in order to keep America vibrant, growing, and secure in what it is. America’s big difference in global leadership and contribution came about through the differences that made America. And with this American holiday and message, plus a big shout out to all soldiers present and past, living in peace or in suffering--all heroes in the eyes of history; and to whom we thank for their brave service--we wish you all a Blessed Memorial Day!

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2021 will occur on Monday, May 31. 

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.

Watch military documentaries on HISTORY Vault

Early Observances of Memorial Day

The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.

By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

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