Today, we honor those in the American Armed Forces who gave their lives while fighting for our nation’s freedom and principles. No sacrifice is too great or too small to be remembered.
Memorial Day, sometimes called Decoration Day, began at the end of the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died during the War Between the States. Shortly after the war, women, freedmen, and veterans took time to visit the gravesites of those who had died in battle. Some even created monuments to honor their commanders. An early Civil War memorial was created by men under the leadership of Brigadier General Strong Vincent, whose brigade defended Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg.
These observances were first followed by organizations and local communities. In 1971, Memorial Day became a national holiday by act of Congress. By this time, the remembrance had also grown to include those who died in all American wars.
To honor the memory of these fallen soldiers, national cemeteries such as Gettysburg National Cemetery and Arlington National Cemetery have been created. The locations of some cemeteries are the actual places where soldiers died. For example, there are American cemeteries around the world to honor the heroes who never made it back to their homeland.
Another way we honor these heroes is through the erection of monuments—to individuals, events, and wars. Here are several famous monuments located in the Washington, D.C., area.
Visitors can find the names of friends and family members on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and make pencil rubbings. I made a pencil rubbing of a family member’s name when I was there.
Youth Activity Ideas for Memorial Day
- Read about this federal holiday in Heritage Studies 4 and about different memorials in Heritage Studies 5 from BJU Press
- Visit memorials near you or those located in Washington, D.C.
- Participate in Memorial Day parades
- Place American flags or flowers at military graves
- Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m. local time
How do you and your family observe Memorial Day?