A History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day history

Memorial Day was established to honor those who valiantly gave their lives in service to our country. Countless U.S. military service members have given the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect U.S. citizens and maintain our freedom, and Memorial Day serves as a day where we, as a country, can collectively mourn and celebrate them. While history is an integral part of what makes this particular day so special, there are many additional ways to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers.

History of Memorial Day

The Civil War, which ended in 1865, is credited with claiming the most lives out of any U.S. conflict. In fact, it was this tragic loss of life that created the necessity for the country’s first national cemeteries. It was then, in the 1860s, that people independently began to decorate the graves of these fallen soldiers, and loved ones began paying tribute to their loved ones’ graves with flowers, flags, and prayers.

Although the exact origins of the first memorial services are debated, it wasn’t until 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson designated Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo received this honor because they held an annual celebration on May 5th since 1866, during which businesses were closed and the community decorated soldiers’ graves. However, in its early days, the day did not go by the name of Memorial Day.

A History of Memorial Day

Decoration Day

General John A. Logan was a leader of an organization for Northern Civil War Veterans. On May 5, 1868, the General issued a nationwide call to organize a special day to honor the fallen to occur on May 30th. He argued that almost every city and churchyard held the body of a fallen Civil War soldier and, as such, should be honored on a nationwide scale. He chose this date because it didn’t overlap with any single battle’s anniversary or any other significant date in history up until that point. Thus, Decoration Day was born. By 1890, most northern states had accepted the day as an official holiday and commemorated it as such. In contrast, the southern states proceeded to honor the fallen on separate days – a pattern that continued until the end of World War I. 

When Did Decoration Day Become Memorial Day?

With the original intention of honoring those who died in the Civil War, during WWI Decoration Day gradually evolved to include all service members who had sacrificed their lives. The U.S.’s increased involvement in other wars, such as World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and more recent conflicts, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, naturally led to the continuation of this trend.

Decoration Day was finally recognized on the federal level in 1938. In fact, it wasn’t until after World War II that the name “Memorial Day” began to catch on and be used more widely to mark the occasion. Many more decades passed as Decoration Day continued to be celebrated on May 30th each year, until the official name change to Memorial Day was recognized by the federal government in 1967.

Shortly after, in 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed, which stated Memorial Day was to be held on the last Monday of May in order to give federal workers a day off to commemorate the occasion. Controversially, many groups like the VFW and the American Legion fought to have the day moved back to May 30th, as originally established, regardless of the day of the week. Ultimately, these efforts did not succeed, and Memorial Day continues to be observed on the last Monday of May. 

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The Meaning of Memorial Day Today

Memorial Day will always be observed as a day to remember and pay tribute to those who gave their lives protecting our nation’s freedom, regardless of the holiday’s original name or date. The day began modestly by inviting residents to decorate the graves of those who died in the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. Later, it transformed into something much more, urging the entire country to honor the sacrifices made by the military. It now serves as a special day set aside to remember those who gave their last breath while serving the U.S. 

How Memorial Day is Commemorated Today

Today, there are many events across the country dedicated to honoring Memorial Day. Cities all over the U.S. host celebrations that include food, veteran-owned businesses, and fireworks in an effort to honor the day.

Another way to celebrate Memorial Day is with patches! Many of the patches we have are dedicated to remembering those who gave their lives in service. We offer a variety of patches to honor those who gave their lives in the line of duty. For example, we have patches to honor those lost in the Vietnam War as well as patches for fallen Naval heroes. Our Fallen but Not Forgotten patch is a customer favorite and another great way to pay tribute to those who died during their service. We also offer a number of patches dedicated to the family members of veterans, like our Son of a Vietnam Veteran patch, and many like it. As a Veteran owned business, we understand the sacrifices that family members have made over the years.

In Memory Of Our Brothers-Vietnam War 1959-1975 Patch
In Memory Of Our Brothers-Vietnam War 1959-1975 Patch
U.S. Naval FOW Wings Fallen Heroes Patch
U.S. Naval FOW Wings Fallen Heroes Patch
Veterans Brothers Forever Ball Cap Patch
Veterans Brothers Forever Ball Cap Patch
Army Son Of A Vietnam Veteran Patch
Army Son Of A Vietnam Veteran Patch
memorial day history

How Our Customers Honor Memorial Day

In order to properly honor and recognize Memorial Day 2023, we conducted a short survey asking how our customers and their loved ones celebrate Memorial Day, what their favorite local events are, and if they had anyone they wanted to give a shout-out to.

  • Sgt. Maj. said they like to observe the day by placing flags on the graves of veterans. They also attend their local town parade and would like to give a shout-out to their brothers and sisters of the 250th Trans. Co.
  • Ronald Sands wrote that he likes to fly the flag and have one hung inside his house all year round to remind him of the sacrifices made, and would like to give a shout-out to the 12th Cavalry and Air Cavalry.
  • An anonymous responder marches in their local parades, visits memorial sites, and flies the flag. They would also like to shout out the American Legion Post 213 in Hampden, Maine.
  • Lt. Col-USAF (retired), Mark Eubanks hosts a huge gathering for friends and family at his home and conducts many traditional ceremonies, including a 21-gun salute and having Taps performed by a bugler. He would also like to send a shout-out to his father, SFC George Eubanks.
  • Dan H. flies the flag all year round in Norristown, PA, and would like to give a shout-out to the 1st Brigade and 5th Infantry Division.
  • Another anonymous surveyee likes to observe the day quietly and respectfully. They say that they served for 32 years and have too many people to shout out amongst their service in the Corps, the Army, and the Air Force, and they don’t regret a single moment of their service.
  • Our last responder, Paul, attends a parade in Appleton, WI, and flies the flag with honor. He would like to give a shoutout to Gib Koula.

Given its lengthy history, many people still observe Memorial Day as it was intended. Whether they knew a military member personally or not, hundreds of people continue to place flags and flowers on their graves and memorials every year while also offering up their thoughts and prayers for those that have been lost. Whatever way you decide to commemorate Memorial Day, remember to do so earnestly, as this day holds much significance in many hearts across the world. From everyone at Popular Patch, Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to those who have served. 


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