The Memorial Day holiday, observed by Americans on the last Monday of May, is for many the unofficial beginning of summer. Most will pause at some point to recall the holiday’s true purpose: to honor those who died defending the nation. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time this Memorial Day, May 28.
The holiday dates back to the American Civil War (1861–1865), when citizens began to place flowers on the graves of their war dead. By the turn of the century, nearly every state had declared an official “Decoration Day” holiday. Congress established the national Memorial Day holiday in 1967. Many Americans on that day visit cemeteries and memorials and, true to the holiday’s origins, place American flags on the graves of service members.
Memorial Day weekend also is a time when Americans visit friends and family or attend community gatherings. The Indianapolis (“Indy”) 500 motor race, by some measures the world’s largest single-day sporting event, is one highlight. Around 400,000 people attend each year.
But Memorial Day remains an occasion to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As President Obama said on Memorial Day 2011, “Ordinary men and women of extraordinary courage have, since our earliest days, answered the call of duty with valor and unwavering devotion.”