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In observance of Memorial Day

In observance of Memorial Day

For many, Memorial Day signals the end of the school year and the beginning of summer but the holiday has a more significant meaning.

Memorial Day – observed the last Monday in May – is a U.S. federal holiday created to honor and remember the U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the United States armed forces. It is distinctly different from Veterans Day, held in November, which honors all veterans of the uniformed services who served or are still serving during times of peace as well as war.

Another military holiday that also occurs in May, Armed Forces Day, observed on the third Saturday in May, honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.


According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the origins of Memorial Day can be traced to three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868. At the time, Maj. Gen. John A.
Logan, head of an organization of Union veterans (the Grand Army of the Republic) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. 

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies centered around the mourning- draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. 

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of

springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant

paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no

neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we

have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery

was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000

people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition

followed at many national cemeteries today. 

Over the years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones on Memorial Day.

To ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

Americans who have died in the nation’s wars number approximately 1.1 million.


First Service Bank – known as the bank with the big American flag – recognizes patriotism as one of its core values. Bankers recognize Memorial Day as a time to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our country, to ensure the freedoms held so dearly.

In 2019, First Service created the Operation Red, White, and Brave initiative. The bank recognizes the sacrifices veterans have made and is working to give back to those who have served or are currently serving in the military. In addition to providing volunteer manpower, the First Service Bank team actively raises money for the ORWB foundation through customer donations and special projects. First Service Bank matches dollar for dollar everything that is raised.

For more information on Operation Red, White and Brave or to support the program, visit