What is Memorial Day?

National

While Memorial Day is often viewed as the unofficial start to summer, the day carries a much creater meaning.

Visitors pause to look for names on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial early in the morning on Memorial Day in Washington, Monday, May 31, 2021. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

(ABC4) – While many view Memorial Day as the unofficial start to summer – and the chance at a three-day weekend – the day carries a heavier meaning.

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In 1868, just three years after the Civil War ended, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Maj. Gen. John A. Logan moved Decoration Day to May 30, when flowers would be in bloom across the country. That year, the first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington D.C.

According to VA, while about 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, the official birthplace was declared Waterloo, New York, by Congress and President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. A ceremony was held there on May 5 of that year, honoring local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and flags were flown at half-staff.

Up until the end of World War I, the day continued to honor those who had fought in the Civil War.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress, placing the day on the last Monday in May to honor those who have died in all American wars.

Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day, which honors those who fought in American wars and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Another military holiday in May, Armed Forces Day, honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.

Now, across the country, Americans honor those who gave their lives in service on Memorial Day. Moments of silence are held, graves are marked with American flags, and military members who gave their lives are remembered.

PHOTOS: Click through to see how some are marking Memorial Day across the country

Utah has a long and storied history of sending soldiers to serve in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. With the help of the Utah National Guard and Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs, ABC4 compiled a list of those in the state who sacrificed their lives while serving their country.

To view that list of Utahns who were killed in action since 2010, click here.

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