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Memorial Day occurs on the last Monday during the Month of May and while it has come to signify the beginning of the summer season, it is also the solemn time when Americans remember the soldiers that died in military service. Originally named Decoration Day, a reference to a tradition of decorating the graves of the Confederate dead, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan and observed for the first time on May 30th of that same year.  The somber occasion came to serve as a gesture of healing after the rancor of the Civil War.

There is frequent confusion between Memorial Day and its companion holiday, Veteran’s Day. The intent of  Memorial Day has always been to honor those who have died in American military service, while  November 11th, Veterans Day, is for those who have served the U.S. in war and survived. Veteran derives from the Latin veteranus, “old,” and has signified experienced soldiers for centuries. In some parts of the world, Veteran’s Day is known as Remembrance Day and Armistice Day – an armistice is “a temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement of the warring parties.” Armistice Day refers to the agreement that brought an end to World War I on the eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

Do you have any further questions about Memorial Day? Let us know below, and we’ll do our best to answer.

42 Comments

  1. Van Blize -  November 10, 2012 - 11:56 am

    I am a 59 year old Retired Gunny and as a child, 5th grade (Mr. Beards Class) It was the end of the school year and I think if I remember right the last day of school. The next day was Memorial Day, he taugh us the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day with 2 pictures. Picture 1 was of a person in uniform saluting the flag, the second was of an honor guard saluting a flagged draped coffin. #1 being Veteran’s Day and #2 being Memorial Day.

    Mr. Beard has as I’ve learned was a very wise Man, kinda just like my Dad, wish I had listened to both of them back then.

    So this was my story, also he added that anytime you saw a flaggd draped coffin was automaticly Memorial Day for the rest of the day.

    I miss my Dad and I miss Mr. Beard and I have a couple of tears forming thinking of them, both who served as Sailors during WWII. To some Veteran’s Day is a combnation of the two, because: You can’t be one without the other. But you can still be One. So for my Veteran’s day salute I say: “Heres you all the Ones may the not become one of the Other Ones. God Bless you all!”

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  2. david -  November 9, 2012 - 8:25 am

    what in the world

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  3. Chloe Gibbs 200 -  November 6, 2012 - 6:40 am

    The difference is different dates and different meaning. Veterans Day remembers the day when the soldiers died.veterans day is held on Monday.its a campaign holiday happy Election Day :)

    Reply
  4. Killa-King700 -  June 8, 2012 - 11:55 am

    i think a memorial day is a war celebration for army’s that are trying there best for their state protected.

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  5. Ken Daniels -  May 28, 2012 - 11:59 am

    The reason Memorial day is in the spring?
    Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country

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  6. Ken Daniels -  May 28, 2012 - 11:58 am

    Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead”

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  7. kayley prater -  January 30, 2012 - 5:51 pm

    yes please tell me one more example of the differencce of memorial day and veterans day!

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  8. itstherecit -  November 3, 2011 - 6:55 pm

    sorry….I meant Memorial day rather than Veterans day

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  9. itstherecit -  November 3, 2011 - 6:53 pm

    When I was a young boy all of the kids in the neighborhood would decorate our bikes with red white and blue paper bunting and flags and sometimes would ride them in the holiday parade. I don’t know when Decoration Day became Veterans Day but I think it was in the mid sixties. Maybe they some how should have continued the Decoration Day traditions and incorporated them into Veterans Day. Had they renamed the holiday, Decoration/Veterans Day some of the tradition would have survived. Even the date of the holiday was changed, as where many other holidays, from May 31st to the last Monday of May.

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  10. hasan -  June 6, 2011 - 9:56 am

    Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans. However, most Americans confuse this holiday with Memorial Day, reports the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    What’s more, some Americans don’t know why we commemorate our Veterans on Nov.11. It’s imperative that all Americans know the history of Veterans Day so that we can honor our former servicemembers properly.

    Reply
  11. Taka -  June 1, 2011 - 11:32 am

    The true meaning of memorial is” REMEMBERING OF GOD GREATION”

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  12. Taka -  June 1, 2011 - 11:18 am

    This is what he says,Peace i give to you, my peace i gave to you ,not as tthe worllds gives.I believe that the whole world is remembering of them and i honor them, but what about the rememberens or the memorial day of the one and only do the world remember this day?.

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  13. Carlitos -  May 31, 2011 - 6:12 pm

    Dennis- you are absolutely right. The last time American soldiers fought to preserve American freedom was in WWII.

    Since then, it has been a travesty on the part of politicians and nationalists and their needless wars; that condemn brave men and women who wish to serve their nation to tragic and futile deaths.

    The most honor we could ever bestow upon those who paid the ultimate price would be to stop the wars.

    HONOR ALL VETERANS DEAD AND ALIVE – NO MORE WAR!

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  14. Dennis -  May 31, 2011 - 1:58 pm

    I believe we Americans suffer a grave misunderstanding about why our military fight in wars. To claim that they fight for our freedom is a tragically naive and romantic view of taking the lives of others who believe they are as dedicated to a cause as our military. Mark Twain wrote a beautiful “War Prayer” that illustrates my point perfectly – soldiers on both sides of the Civil War praying to the same god; both sides believing that god will be by their side in battle. War is now as it has ever been – a battle for territory or other advantage. But we keep shedding blood, killing other humans, believing we have the singular right to do so.

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  15. coldbear -  May 31, 2011 - 11:30 am

    Every year, my church holds a special service to honor the fallen soldiers of our area. It is a solemn occasion, in which we the families of the fallen, and we attempt to sympathize with those families, something difficult for those of us that have never been in that situation.

    I was asked by a friend (who had never served) after the ceremony whether it bothered me (a retired airman) that they sometimes combine the two holidays into one occasion, both in our ceremony and in general. I could only answer yes. This day was for the families of Sergeants Coe, Angus and Payne, and others like them who will never be able to enjoy an occasion like this. While I am grateful for the recognition given to veterans (something we lacked during the post-Vietnam era), this day is not mine. I honor those for whom it is due.

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  16. frank urben -  May 31, 2011 - 10:54 am

    To address Vanessa’s point, journalists as of late seem to think soldier is a generic term. It’s not. I refer you to the AP Stylebook which most journalists use. Service member is the generic term for a member of the military.

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  17. Lydia Henry Reeder -  May 31, 2011 - 7:35 am

    Often lost in all of the Memorial Day barbecuing, parading and flag-waving is not just the day’s true meaning – remembering fallen American soldiers- but the day’s true origins.

    The first ever Memorial Day was celebrated on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina by former African-American slaves. They called their celebration Decoration Day, and it was in honor of some 250 or so Union Soldiers who died in an encampment on the site of an old horseracing track.

    This bit of history has largely been lost, tucked away in the dusty recesses of Southern archives, forgotten, perhaps with intention, by those in the late 18th Century who sought to control the historical narrative and the meaning of the Civil War.
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    While oral histories passed down through black families in Charleston of a glorious day in 1865 when more than 10,000 blacks marched and sang and prayed over the graves of the Union soldiers buried there, the story had remained the stuff of hushed legend until David Blight, a historian at Yale University, stumbled upon it in the late 1990s while doing research for a book he was writing.

    He was parsing through a “hopelessly disorganized” trove of material at the Houghton Library at Harvard University when he made a fascinating discovery inside a box of papers. It was a folder labeled “First Decoration Day,” and when he cracked it open a piece of cardboard-like paper slid out.

    On it was a handwritten narrative, probably written by a Civil War veteran, describing in detail what happened that day at the racetrack.

    “When I read it I could hardly believe my eyes,” said Blight, the author of several books, including ‘Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.’

    The more research he did the more detail he uncovered and a clear picture emerged of what is likely (though several other states have laid claim) the very first celebration of scale of the war’s dead.

    The end of the Civil War had just come, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction from North to South. About 620,000 soldiers from both sides of the Mason Dixon were killed. And of the 180,000 or so black soldiers that fought for the Union military, roughly 20 percent of them were killed. Southern cities like Charleston lay in rubble.

    President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated in April of 1865. Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate troops, had surrendered in the first week of May. The country, particularly the South, was in ruins, soaked in the blood let by war. The slaves had been freed. The North and South were just beginning a long and arduous road to healing, if such a notion could have been imagined at the time.

    This was the backdrop of what happened that day in May some 146 years ago. It was a Monday morning on the grounds of an old racecourse in Charleston, which at one time was a gem of the city’s gentry, its socialites and its wealthy, according to Blight and various histories.

    But in the waning last year of the war the course’s grounds had been turned into a prison camp and a burial ground for hundreds of Union soldiers who died there. For weeks after the war officially ended, former slaves, about 25 in all, did the dirty work of burying those dead soldiers.

    Thousands upon thousands of former slaves, black school children and soldiers came together to honor those that died there. They sang ‘John Brown’s Body,’ according to accounts. The black grave-diggers, according to Blight, built a fence around the cemetery and constructed an archway, which read “Martyrs of the Racetrack,” or something close to it.

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  18. Poets Reach -  May 31, 2011 - 5:59 am

    There has been a lot of discussion (not just here) about the disconnect / widening gap, between those with a connection to the military, and those without a connection. From what I understand of history, this rift began during the Vietnam War, as did the negative, distrustful view of the military held by many in society. Because of the atmosphere, created by these conditions, that has formed around the military, it is difficult for any one without a connection to support the members of our armed forces. The fact that vary few people put themselves out there and find a way to support them regardless, just perpetuates the myth/impression no one wants to / is interested in supporting or honoring them. I think that a lot of people have a lot of respect for the members of the armed forces, both past and presently serving. If they make a mistake wile discussing the topic (as I probably have), it is not because they are lazy, it is not because they have a lack of respect, it is because they honestly do not know. And if they don’t know, it is likely not from a lack of trying or a lack of interest, it is because the military and military serves, is in many ways, like money, suicide or abuse, a taboo subject in our society. So however aggravating it may be, education is the appropriate response, necessary to remedy the situation, not frustration.
    Sorry if that got a little morbid at the end.

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  19. Jimmy Rogers -  May 31, 2011 - 5:35 am

    Matthew koth was here 5/31/11

    Reply
  20. Jimmy Rogers -  May 31, 2011 - 5:34 am

    dora the explorer
    lets go boots

    Reply
  21. girlfriend of a marine -  May 30, 2011 - 8:50 pm

    I salute all the soldiers especially the marines here in country! God bless you all!!

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  22. rebekah -  May 30, 2011 - 8:21 pm

    I think that Memorial Day is beginning to honor more veterans along with fallen soldiers/marines/sailors/airmen. Do you think that Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day are becomming more conjoined? Should there be more of a distinction? And I feel like Veterans Day is not regarded with as much importance as Memorial Day, at least not in my town. On Memorial Day we have all of these festivities, but Veterans Day is much more unnoticed. I think we should give importance to both days.

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  23. Anonymous -  May 30, 2011 - 1:46 pm

    Thanks to all our troops servign! Wishing well to military families!

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  24. Fanny Johnson -  May 30, 2011 - 12:46 pm

    I thank god each and everyday for the men of our country that fights in our
    armed forces for the freedom that we all get to enjoy. I just wish that the people of our america would respect and honor them more, especially the government. I am going to put this out there because after they have given llife and limbs for thier country they come back traumatized broken and all messed up in different ways and thier own government won’t take care of them it’s time for tthis to stop. It’s time that we who enjoy the good life free from war and terrorizism take a stand for these young and women. They are not only dying over seas they are dying right here from lack of medical attention and medication they are living in proverty. Some of these things I already knew since I was child, but thought things had changed only to find out that they have gotten worse. I am 50 years old now.
    People of myn time just nthink if war had gone on and these wonderful people did not fight for us where would we be would there even be a us.
    I am petitioning anyone out there that’s doing anything to help these young men and women please contact me so that I can help aide in this fight. I don’t have money but what I do have is a big mouth and I am powerful with the pen.

    Reply
  25. Amile90210 -  May 30, 2011 - 10:50 am

    I think this special day is more like Saving Private Ryan movie. The move is really nice u should watch it.

    Reply
  26. David -  May 30, 2011 - 9:56 am

    I thought it was to honor Union soldiers – Grand Army of the Republic and all that…

    Reply
  27. Mary Kilijanczyk -  May 30, 2011 - 9:26 am

    My daddy served Army in Vietnam, my grandfather, who I never got to meet and who’s on my daddy’s side, served WWII, Godfather/Uncle Tony served Air Force in Vietnam, my Uncle Stash served Vietnam, my brother’s Uncle Pat served and never came back alive, and my great-uncle Freddie along with my great-uncle Eddie both serve Navy in WWII; so I know what these soldiers of Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq are dealing with and I feel really bad and sad for the families of dead. Everyday, I cry when I hear on the news that another soldier died in war and I pray for their families because we all need prayer at times of sorrow. It hurts knowing that there are still soldiers in war and many people don’t care or don’t know what today really means, so let’s tell kids what today really means and let’s thank the soldiers dead or alive for what they fought for and for keeping us free! GOD BLESS!! PROUD TO BE AMERICAN!! ONE NATION UNDER GOD!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!! GOD BLESS NEW YORK, PENNSYLVANIA, AND THE PENTAGON!!

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  28. Sandra Rogers -  May 30, 2011 - 6:50 am

    Jorge,

    Gracias por tener interes en nuestro pais! Simplemente, Memorial Day es para recordar los que han fallecido y Veteran’s Day es para los que estan vivos todavia.

    Sinceramente,

    Sandra

    Reply
  29. LarryW -  May 30, 2011 - 6:01 am

    On this most special day of every year of all living people in the world there is probably a great gap between those who proudly know someone who has given their life while in military service and others who don’t care a whit that their daily freedom was paid for by the lives of fallen soldiers. Hail to the fallen heros of the world. We owe you recognition and gratitude.

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  30. vanessa -  May 30, 2011 - 5:51 am

    I appreciate, support, and mostly respect our troops with all my heart, so nothing bothers me more than when someone, who i’m sure has all the right intentions and simply doesn’t know any better, classifies everyone in our Armed Forces as “Soldiers”. The Army has Soldiers, the Marines are Marines, the Navy has Sailors, and the Air Force are Airmen. While I’m sure most people roll their eyes while reading that, the fact of the matter is, while it maybe easier to just classify everyone as Soldiers; Marines, Sailors, and Airmen have worked harder than most of us could ever imagine to earn those titles and are proud of them. I’m not trying to split hairs, but rather, on this Memorial Day (and while thinking of my Airmen grandfather, Soldier grandfather and father, and Marine boyfriend), wish to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us and our Country in the most dignified and appropriate way possible.

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  31. Sylva Portoian, MD -  May 30, 2011 - 5:05 am

    Every race have their own memorial day…
    We should respect each and remember them
    As the earth is one
    And we should praise every soldier
    Who was lost his life
    For the sake of humanity
    and for others to live

    Armenian memorial day
    Is their Genocide (1915-1023)
    Where not only soldiers killed
    But every individual were slayed
    From the unborn till the gray aged
    Without mercy with out regrets
    Still our genocide not recognized
    By civilized parliaments…!
    Open other sites and read about
    “The Armenian Genocide”

    Reply
  32. the epicness that is me -  May 29, 2011 - 10:08 pm

    Este es bien, Jorge! Se un poco espanol, pero esta bien cuando gente aprenden mas de este pais y su historia.

    Reply
  33. Walt -  May 29, 2011 - 6:41 pm

    Boalsburg, PA, also claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. They even have a statue of the first one in, I think 1864, but 24 other communities in the US also claim to have been the first to celebrate it.

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  34. JudyinBoston -  May 29, 2011 - 6:22 pm

    We used to call the day “Decoration Day” because all the graves were decorated with flags and flowers.

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  35. Book Beater -  May 29, 2011 - 5:34 pm

    My family has served for the past three generations, and we’ve lost no one in this sixty years of brush wars.
    I offer my condolences to all those families less fortunate

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  36. JJ Rousseau -  May 29, 2011 - 4:39 pm

    Confederate Decorations? Grits and lawn jockeys? Non.

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  37. clark -  May 29, 2011 - 2:17 pm

    ola . . . . .
    Muy Bien

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  38. clark -  May 29, 2011 - 2:16 pm

    ola . . . . .
    Salamat

    Reply
  39. Daniel Remler -  May 29, 2011 - 12:40 pm

    Dear Ms. Burns,

    To the extent Memorial Day may have, as you mention, evolved in such a manner, I would think that is incorrect and ultimately a disservice to the actual soldiers and the cause(es) “…for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…” [Lincoln, Gettysburg Address 11/19/1863]

    This is merely the opinion of one man. I have no other credentials other than a desire to see veterans, both dead and alive treated with more respect. I am a civilian.

    Sincerely,
    Daniel Remler

    Reply
  40. Jorge Aguilar Elorza -  May 29, 2011 - 12:30 pm

    aunque yo no soy de este pais y que me gusta mucho, es importante para mi saber de la diferencia entre MEMORIAL DAY Y VETERANS DAY. ahora ya aprendi un poco mas de las tradiciones de este pais.

    Gracias.

    Reply
  41. Debbie Baker Burns -  May 29, 2011 - 11:30 am

    How did Memorial evolve into a holiday where we decorate the graves of all of our ancestors and not just those who died in the military?

    Reply
  42. C. Nielsen -  May 29, 2011 - 11:26 am

    Waterloo, NY claims to be The Birthplace of Memorial Day… any truth to that?

    Reply

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