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May 25, 2013

The history of Memorial Day

The history of Memorial Day

Though not formally designated by Congress as a federal holiday until 1971, Memorial Day has its roots in private and pensive observances dating back to the 19th century. 

The first official act occurred 145 years ago. The scene was intimate. When Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at the Arlington National Cemetery to honor those who died fighting in the Civil War, his actions triggered a wave of similar observances. As the years passed, efforts to set aside a day to remember those who have died while serving in the military became more organized. New York state officially recognized Memorial Day as a holiday in 1873, with other northern states to eventually follow suit. 

A bit miffed by the outcome of the Civil War, southern states entered Memorial Day through different doors. There is even an underlying running debate between the North and South as to just exactly where the idea of Memorial Day originated. Many Southern states have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Tactfully, after World War I, the holiday was changed to honor all Americans who died fighting in any war. But in 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day.

 — Cheryl Petersen

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