Memorial Day 2020: Everything You Need to Know About Memorial Day

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Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle salutes the flag.
Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio commander, salutes as the Girl Scouts of America carry the U.S. flag. (Sean M. Worrell/U.S. Air Force)

Originally known as Decoration Day, what we now know as Memorial Day was first designated after the Civil War as a day to visit the graves of troops who died in the conflict. In 1971, Congress declared it a national holiday.

What is the meaning of Memorial Day in the U.S.?

Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is a day to honor members of the military who were killed in service, both during deployments overseas or in training and service in the U.S. Across the country, Americans spend the day visiting cemeteries, attending Memorial Day events and otherwise honoring those who lost their lives in service to the country. The day also traditionally marks the first unofficial day of summer.

What do you say on Memorial Day?

Because Memorial Day is a somber day to honor those who died in service to the country, saying “Happy Memorial Day” is considered to be in bad taste. For those who have lost family or friends through military service, the day is far from happy. Avoid wishing anyone a “happy Memorial Day.” If you feel the need to say something, try “Have a meaningful Memorial Day.”

What is the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Memorial Day is a day to honor the sacrifice and loss of members of the military who died in service. Veterans Day, on the other hand, is a day to honor the service of any man or woman who has served in the U.S. military. Read more about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Should you thank a veteran on Memorial Day?

Because Memorial Day is for honoring the fallen, not the living, it is not considered appropriate to thank a veteran for his or her service on Memorial Day. While the sentiment is always appreciated, save your thanks for a different day and spend Memorial Day honoring those who have died in service to the country.

What flower honors Memorial Day?

The red poppy is often worn on Memorial Day, a tradition started during World War I and inspired by Canadian soldier John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915.

 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

The poppy’s use as a symbol in the U.S. was first inspired by an American woman, Moina Michael, who in 1918 wrote the poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” in response to McCrae’s, and dedicated the rest of her life to getting the red poppy emblem recognized by governments worldwide as a symbol honoring the fallen.

 

We Shall Keep the Faith

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet - to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders Fields.

How do you pay respects and honor the military on Memorial Day?

Military organizations and bases nationwide are dedicated to honoring fallen military members on Memorial Day. One way to pay respects or honor the military on Memorial Day is to attend a Memorial Day ceremony at a local veterans cemetery. Another is to attend a parade. Many cities also have local veteran memorials where you can leave flowers or a wreath as a sign of respect.

Some organizations, like Wear Blue: Run to Remember, hold special Memorial Day events to honor the fallen. You can also commemorate Memorial Day with your children through age-appropriate activities. If you’re using the day to celebrate the unofficial start of summer, consider pausing your festivities for a moment of silence. See more about Memorial Day events.

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