When was the first Memorial Day, and what’s it about? Some may confuse the purpose of Memorial Day with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Whereas Veterans Day recognizes all who have served in the Armed Forces.
When did Memorial Day begin?
Memorial Day was a response to the Civil War, in which a total of ~ 650,000 soldiers died between both sides. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to several spontaneous commemorations of the dead.
Soon afterwards, May 30, 1868 was set aside “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” ~ Major General John Logan, General Order #11
In 1873, New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. By the late 1800s, many more cities and communities observed Memorial Day, and several states had declared it a legal holiday.
After World War I, it became an occasion for honoring those who died in all of America’s wars and was then more widely established as a national holiday throughout the United States.
In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established that Memorial Day was to be commemorated on the last Monday of May.
The holiday was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. It wasn’t until 1967 that federal law declared “Memorial Day” the official name.
“Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” ~ history.com
How Many U.S. Military Died In Wars?
American war deaths have varied dramatically, depending on the war they were volunteering (or being drafted) to fight. Some fell to the enemy, many more fell to disease. Since the Revolutionary War ended, 646,596 American troops have died in battle and more than 539,000 died from other, non-combat related causes.
From military.com, here are the numbers of casualties of U.S. military for the following wars. For a complete list of casualties of every American war, here’s their link.
American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)
American Civil War (1861 – 1865)
World War I (1917 – 1918)
World War II (1940 – 1945)
Korean War (1950 – 1953)
Vietnam War (1964 – 1975)
Gulf War (1990 – 1991)
Iraq and Afghanistan (as of Sept. 2011)