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Memorial Day

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The first Decoration Day was 30 May 1868, three years after the end of the American Civil War.


Gen. John A. Logan, U.S. Army, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, initiated the day of remembrance.


He ordered that all Army posts decorate the graves of fallen Civil War comrades with flowers and a "suitable ceremony," and that flags be flown at half mast until noon.


Decoration Day later got a new name, Memorial Day. On this day the nation now honors those killed-in-action from all branches of the armed forces.


This day of honor has been further expanded to include all wars and conflicts in which American servicemen have made the Supreme Sacrifice for their country. And, in a solemn ceremony, a wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (more about that later).


Since the late 1950s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the U.S. Army has placed small American flags at each of the quarter-million-plus graves in Arlington National Cemetery. The Army also stands guard in the cemetery through Memorial Day to ensure that the flags remain in place.


In 1968 (the height of the hippie and flower power generation), Congress changed the observance date from 30 May to the last Monday in May. However, in 1999 bills were introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, proposing restoration of 30 May as the day of observance.


According to tradition, Memorial Day is observed by placing flowers or small flags on the graves of American servicemen who have fallen in battle.


Americans are encouraged to visit military memorials and to fly flags at half mast until noon. They also are asked to fly the relatively new "POW/MIA" flag, per the 1998 Defense Authorization Act.


Further, all Americans are asked to participate in a "Moment of Remembrance" at 3:00 pm and pledge to aid the families of the honored dead.


In some of the southern states, in addition to the national Memorial Day, citizens also observe Confederate Memorial Day. On this day they honor the Confederate soldiers, sailors, and Marines who died in battle during the Civil War, 1861-1865.


Since this is a state holiday, each state may select its day of observance.


Confederate Memorial Day is observed in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi on April 26; in South Carolina and North Carolina on May 10; in Alabama on the last Monday in April; in Virginia on May 30; in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana on June 3 (the birthday of Jefferson Davis); and in Texas on January 19 (the birthday of Gen. Robert E. Lee).
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