Memorial Day History has an article titled Memorial Day: The Forgotten History of America’s Memorial Day and What It Commemorates. Thank you to over 1.3 million Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Memorial Day is more than just the “unofficial start of summer.” It was originally a celebration of the lives sacrificed on both sides during the War Between the States. Not an official federal holiday until 1971, the history of Memorial Day is one of controversy. This guide traces the origins of this American day dedicated to remembering and honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Early Celebrations: Annual Decoration Days

While the day was eventually codified as a Civil War-centric holiday, people had laid flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers for decades before there was such a thing as Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day” as it is sometimes called. Annual decoration days were most common in the American South. Because the American South was more rural and agrarian based, it was not uncommon to have a family cemetery. It was here that families would gather for picnics and grave decorations.

The early celebrations were not about remembering the fallen from the war. They were effectively extended family reunions, a sort of folk ancestor worship specifically developed out of the folkways of the American South. A religious service typically accompanied the meal.

A Richmond Times-Dispatch article from 1906 documents a June 3, 1861, Warrenton, Virginia, celebration as the first time a Civil War veteran’s grave was decorated. In 1862, there is another recorded example of an early Civil War grave decoration which occurred in Savannah, Georgia. In 1863, there was a decoration of soldiers’ graves in Gettysburg.

Decoration of graves became widespread after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. There were, at this point, over 600,000 American soldiers in the ground. This gave what was a previously existing informal ritual a new significance. It was this year that the federal government began making a national cemetery for the Union war dead. Despite this, the celebrations were primarily a Southern thing.

How Memorial Day Became “Official”

In 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared there to be an “official” first celebration of Memorial Day. The resolution stated that the first Memorial Day was in 1866, in Waterloo, New York, celebrated at the behest of druggist Henry C. Welles and county clerk John B. Murray. This “official” foundation story of Memorial Day has largely been discredited as a myth. 25 towns currently claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.

More attested to as the first Memorial Day celebration in the North is the May 5, 1868, proclamation by General John A. Logan calling for a nationwide “Decoration Day.” He simply adopted the previously existing ceremonies of the American South and transplanted them to the Northern States. The first Memorial Day celebrated in the North took place on May 30, 1868. It is said that the date was chosen because it did not align with any particular battle, thus neither side could be seen as engaging in triumphalism.

The new holiday spread like wildfire throughout the Northern states. In the first year of the official Memorial Day, 27 states observed ceremonies in 127 cemeteries. This ballooned to 336 cemeteries by the next year. In 1871, Michigan became the first state after the original 27 to make it an official holiday. By 1890, it was an official holiday in every Northern state. The popularity of the holiday led to the reinterment of almost 300,000 Northern war dead in national cemeteries.

A new American mythology arose because of the celebration of this new holiday. For example, German and Irish Americans who had participated in the war were considered to be “Americans by blood” due to their sacrifice. There were honest and open discussions of wartime atrocities. The purpose of these discussions was to provide context for the war and what was gained as well as what was lost, not merely sulking around in unpleasant memories.

Ceremonies and Celebrations of Memorial Day

In the 1880s, the ceremonies became much more standardized. This is largely due to the efforts of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans organization for Union soldiers. Pamphlets with rituals, Bible verses and poems were distributed to local post commanders. Many of these were the “go to” ceremonies for Memorial Day, at least in the Northern states.

The Southern states, of course, had a slightly different take on the dead of the Civil War and how best to honor them. Their ceremonies tended to be simpler, more somber, less celebratory and honored both the Union and Confederate dead.

In the South, it was women who took the lead with Memorial Day celebration. The Ladies Memorial Association made it their charge to ensure that Confederate memorials were kept up and decorated on Memorial Day. Out of this grew the Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization whose numbers quickly grew from 17,000 in 1900 to almost 100,000 by the start of the First World War. 1868 was the first documented case of Southrons attempting to add “Confederate” to the beginning of the name of the day. By 1890, the American nationalist elements were firmly in the saddle, even in former Confederate states.

While many will complain that Memorial Day is not a day for barbecuing and drinking beer, this observation goes back to at least 1913. The Grand Army of the Republic opposed a Memorial Day race in the year 1911. However, they were increasingly elderly and had less power than they had even 20 years prior. Ironically, the race the GAR opposed is one of the biggest Memorial Day traditions still going — the Indianapolis 500.

In 1950, Congress passed a resolution calling on the nation to observe Memorial Day as a day of prayer for perpetual peace. In 1971, it finally became an official federal holiday. In 2000, President Bill Clinton codified the 3 p.m. observance time that had already been a popular time for remembering our war dead. The President requests that flags on government property be flown at half mast until noon, however this is not legally mandated. Some Southern states still celebrate a day specifically dedicated to remembering the Confederate war dead, but this does not fall on the same day as Memorial Day – in the case of Texas’ “Heroes Day,” it falls several months away from Memorial Day in January.

More to the point of the holiday’s origins, there is a remembrance every year at 3 p.m. local time. If you’re looking to honor the nation’s veterans, look into whatever local celebrations might be available to you.

Memorial Day Events in the Area

Yakima Herald: Memorial Day events across the Yakima Valley

Memorial Day, always the last Monday in May, is a federally recognized holiday that honors men and women who died while serving in the military.

Several Memorial Day events will be happening around the Yakima Valley this weekend. Here’s a list:

Tahoma Cemetery

The VFW will hold a service at 10 a.m. near the Veterans Monument on Monday. The Sons of Union Veterans Civil War service will be at 11 a.m. Monday in section F, the Civil War area.

The cemetery is at 1802 Tahoma Ave. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. all weekend.

Placing flags

Members of the VFW, American Legion, AMVETS and the public will be placing American flags on graves at 6 a.m. Saturday at the Lower Valley Memorial Gardens Cemetery, 7800 Van Belle Road in Sunnyside. Participants will place 1,900 flags on veterans’ graves there. Members of the public are welcome.

Breakfast will be provided by the VFW Ladies Auxiliary at the VFW Hall, 615 North Ave. All flag-placing participants are welcome to attend.

If you know of a veteran who does not have a flag on their grave, call Bill Ingram at 509-830-4554 or inform cemetery management.

Sunnyside War Veterans

Memorial Service

The public is invited to two Monday services in Sunnyside presented by the VFW, American Legion and AMVETS on Monday.

The first starts at 9:30 a.m. at Outlook Cemetery on Gap Road south of West Sunnyside Road. The main service begins at 11 a.m. at the War Veterans Memorial at the Lower Valley Memorial Gardens Cemetery, 7800 Van Belle Road.

Names of local veterans who died over the last 12 months will be read. The names of veterans from Sunnyside who were killed in action since World War I also will be read.

The services will include a wreath-laying ceremony, a 21-gun salute, taps and a dove release by AMVET member Henry Ebbelaar. Sunnyside Mayor Dean Broersma will be a guest speaker.


The Yakima-Kittitas Detachment of the Marine Corps League is inviting the public to two events Monday. The first is at 9 a.m. at West Hills Cemetery on Wide Hollow Road. The second starts at 1 p.m. at Sarg Hubbard Park, 111 S. 18th St.

Yakima Memorial Day Parade

Downtown Yakima

As expected, the Yakima Memorial Day Parade will be in full force again this year to honor the holiday. The Marine Corps League Detachment 1055 organization is hosting the community event. Since Memorial Day itself is on a Monday, the parade will be Saturday, May 28. It will start at 10 a.m. and last until noon.

Tri-City Herald: Memorial Day weekend events to honor fallen service members in Tri-Cities

There are several ways to honor fallen veterans this Memorial Day weekend in the Tri-Cities.


City View Cemetery in Pasco is hosting events to remember the nation’s armed forces. At 10 a.m. on Monday, May 30, there will be a K9 Dedication with Al Yenney, a former city councilman, as well as a demonstration from Service Peace Warriors.

At 11 a.m., the main Memorial Day observance will include Pasco Councilman Pete Serrano and M. Semi Bird from the Richland School Board. There also will be the placement of wreaths, a military anthem medley and a gun salute.

City View Cemetery is at 1300 N. Oregon Ave. in Pasco.


Sunset Gardens in Richland plans a weekend-long event for its 50th Anniversary Memorial Day celebration.

Sunset Gardens will raise 1,000 American flags in honor of veterans and fallen service members. On May 28, a tour of the funeral home is planned from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. along with a Betty White tribute.

On May 29, free hot dogs will be offered at the event center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And Monday’s observance will include special guest speaker Scott Jacobs, retired NCIS investigator, a skydiver, live music, snow cones and hot dogs. The event starts at 11 a.m.

Candy Mountain Memorial Day Hike

Thursday, May 26, 2022 from 6:30pm to 9:00pm

Candy Mountain Preserve Trailhead

71004 East 669 PR NE

Richland, WA 99352

Memorial Day Hike 2022 – Honoring the Fallen

The CBC V.E.T.S Center is partnering with ASCBC and Recreation and Wellness to bring you the 2022 Memorial Day Hike! Join us as we hike to the summit of Candy Mountain Preserve Trail to overlook all that our fallen heroes have preserved in their sacrifice. The trail is 3.6 miles long (roundtrip) with an elevation gain of 555 ft. The first 100 CBC students who attend will receive an exclusive V.E.T.S Memorial Day Hike t-shirt.

We will be gathering in the parking lot below the trail at 6:30 pm. From 6:30 to 6:45 pm guests can sign in, students can receive their t-shirt and guests will have the opportunity to honor their loved ones by writing their name on an Honor and Remember Flag. We will kick off the hike by providing a brief speech to honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we have today. We will be providing snacks at the end of the hike which consists of a Gatorade and a granola bar.

This is a self-paced event. We will be packing everything up and be preparing to leave around 9 pm. Carpooling is recommended to lessen our impact.

Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery

The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Senator Tom Cotton on April 9, 2019, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.

Every headstone at Arlington tells a story. These are tales of heroes, I thought, as I placed the toe of my combat boot against the white marble. I pulled a miniature American flag out of my assault pack and pushed it three inches into the ground at my heel. I stepped aside to inspect it, making sure it met the standard that we had briefed to our troops: “vertical and perpendicular to the headstone.” Satisfied, I moved to the next headstone to keep up with my soldiers. Having started this row, I had to complete it. One soldier per row was the rule; otherwise, different boot sizes might disrupt the perfect symmetry of the headstones and flags. I planted flag after flag, as did the soldiers on the rows around me.

Old Guard Soldiers salute departed with ‘Flags In’ tribute

Bending over to plant the flags brought me eye-level with the lettering on those marble stones. The stories continued with each one. Distinguished Service Cross. Silver Star. Bronze Star. Purple Heart. America’s wars marched by. Iraq. Afghanistan. Vietnam. Korea. World War II. World War I. Some soldiers died in very old age; others were teenagers. Crosses, Stars of David, Crescents and Stars. Every religion, every race, every age, every region of America is represented in these fields of stone.

I came upon the gravesite of a Medal of Honor recipient. I paused, came to attention, and saluted. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest decoration for battlefield valor. By military custom, all soldiers salute Medal of Honor recipients irrespective of their rank, in life and in death. We had reminded our soldiers of this courtesy; hundreds of grave sites would receive salutes that afternoon. I planted this hero’s flag and kept moving.

On some headstones sat a small memento: a rank or unit patch, a military coin, a seashell, sometimes just a penny or a rock. Each was a sign that someone—maybe family or friends, or perhaps a battle buddy who lived because of his friend’s ultimate sacrifice—had visited, honored, and mourned. For those of us who had been downrange, the sight was equally comforting and jarring—a sign that we would be remembered in death, but also a reminder of just how close some of us had come to resting here ourselves. We left those mementos undisturbed.

After a while, my hand began to hurt from pushing on the pointed, gold tips of the flags. There had been no rain that week, so the ground was hard. I asked my soldiers how they were moving so fast and seemingly pain-free. They asked if I was using a bottle cap, and I said no. Several shook their heads in disbelief; forgetting a bottle cap was apparently a mistake on par with forgetting one’s rifle or night-vision goggles on patrol in Iraq. Those kinds of little tricks and techniques were not briefed in the day’s written orders, but rather got passed down from seasoned soldiers. These details often make the difference between mission success or failure in the Army, whether in combat or stateside. After some good-natured ribbing at my expense, a young private squared me away with a spare cap. Continue reading “Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery”

Pasco Memorial Day March & Ceremony 2019

May 27, 2019
7:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Regional Veteran’s Memorial Columbia Park and City View Cemetery | Pasco, WA

This year’s MEMORIAL DAY CEREMONY WILL START WITH A MARCH. The MARCH WILL BEGIN AT 7:30 at the Regional Veterans MEMORIAL IN COLUMBIA PARK, Kennewick (Check-In 7am). From there, participants will MARCH OR RIDE ON THE CARAVAN TRAILER, stopping for breaks along the way. Some participants will be carrying 100 pound packs but that is optional. To register for the MARCH, contact Christopher at 509-440-9498. The Ceremony at City View Cemetery will kick off at 10 am, with West Plains Skydivers jumping at 10:15 am. Marchers are expected to arrive at the cemetery by 10:30 am as the ceremony continues. A Balloon Release finishes out the event at 11:30 am.

General Orders No. 11, May 5, 1868


General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated 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, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or 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.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of


Adjutant General