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On May 30, 1868, the first Decoration Day, a precursor to Memorial Day, was celebrated to honor those who died in service to the country. The day originated from the tradition of decorating graves with flags, flowers, and wreaths, with the first national commemoration led by Gen. John A. Logan. Former Union Gen. James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery after participants decorated the graves of over 20,000 soldiers. Local observances at burial grounds after the Civil War led to the national event, evolving from a commemoration of Civil War dead to honoring fallen members of the US armed forces from all wars.

The evolution of Decoration Day began on May 5, 1868, when General John Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance for Civil War veterans. The first Decoration Day in 1868 was filled with patriotism and solemn tributes, as Gen. Logan dedicated the day to honoring fallen heroes across the country. General James Garfield’s speech at Arlington National Cemetery and the decoration of soldiers’ graves marked the beginning of the annual event. As time passed, the day started being known as Memorial Day to honor all fallen American troops, not just from the Civil War.

Following the two World Wars, Memorial Day gained importance as a day to remember all fallen soldiers, leading to its recognition as an official holiday in the US. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed, putting Memorial Day on a specific Monday to create three-day weekends for federal employees. This act also codified the name Memorial Day into law, solidifying its place as a national holiday. Nowadays, Memorial Day parades are held across the country, with some of the largest taking place in cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.

On Memorial Day, Americans honor fallen troops by visiting cemeteries and memorials, wearing red poppies as a symbol of remembrance, and attending ceremonies at places like Arlington National Cemetery. The Memorial Day Observation Ceremony at Arlington includes performances by the United States Marine Corp band, a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and an observance ceremony attended by the president. The day serves as a reminder to never take freedom for granted and pays tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country. From its origins as Decoration Day to its recognition as Memorial Day, the holiday continues to be a solemn occasion to remember and honor fallen soldiers.

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