Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day. It was a day set aside for us to honor those who died preserving the Union in the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day for the act of decorating the graves of dead soldiers with flowers. On May 5, 1868 General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed Decoration Day, in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed on May 30, 1868. General Order No. 11 went on to state that: "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 foe. 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 to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided Republic."
It is unknown when Decoration Day first became Memorial Day. The Holiday was first celebrated by the people of Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866 and then again on May 5, 1867. It could be that Decoration Day and Memorial Day were celebrated concurrently in different parts of the North for many years until World War I. The South refused to acknowledge May 30th honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I. On June 19th, 1926 by joint resolution, U.S. Congress authorized and directed the Secratary of War to accept a tablet commemorating the designation of May 30th as Memorial Day. At that time Memorial Day was made a National Holiday and changed from honoring those who died fighting just the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in all our wars. In May 1966, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, N.Y. as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Since 1971 Memorial Day is now celebrated by law on the last Monday in May. That year Congress passed the National Holiday Act, P.L. 90-363 to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays.
Since the late 1950’s the 1,200 soldiers of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Brigade place small American flags at each of the 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. They then patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day during the Memorial Day weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Since December 2000 in an effort to help Americans remember the true meaning of Memorial Day the "National Moment of Remembrance" asks that at 3P.M. local time all Americans pause for a moment of silence in remembrance and respect.