5 Facts about Memorial Day

May 22, 2020

On Monday, Americans will observe Memorial Day, a federal holiday for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces.

Here are five facts you should know about this day of remembrance:

1. Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military both in wartime or peacetime.

2. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Three years after the Civil War, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 since it was believed flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

3. Until after World War I, Decoration Day was a holiday reserved for the remembrance of the Civil War dead. After the Great War the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

4. Here are the number of veteran deaths from 1941-2020:

World War II (1941-1946)
Battle Deaths: 291,557
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 113,842

Korean War (1950-1953)
Battle Deaths: 33,739
Other Deaths (In Theater): 2,835

Vietnam War (1964-1975)
Battle Deaths: 47,434
Other Deaths (In Theater): 10,786

Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990- 1991)
Battle Deaths: 148
Other Deaths (In Theater): 235

Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
Hostile Deaths: 3,481
Non-Hostile Deaths: 937

Operation Freedom's Sentinel (Afghanistan)
Hostile Deaths: 64
Non-Hostile Deaths: 26

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)
Hostile Deaths: 3,481
Non-Hostile Deaths: 930

Operation New Dawn (Iraq insurgency)
Hostile Deaths: 38
Non-Hostile Deaths: 35

Operation Inherent Resolve (against ISIS)
Hostile Deaths: 21
Non-Hostile Deaths: 74

(Note: Battle deaths means the death occurred in or near the “theater” of battle while “non-theater” means the deaths occurred outside the combat zone.)

5. In 2000, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” which designates 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance, in “honor of the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace.” Public Law 106-579 encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at that time for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.