Memorial Day started as Decoration Day -- a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers

Today we pause to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country.

Originally called Decoration Day, the day started after the Civil War as a day to decorate the graves of our war dead.

Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

While the day was officially established in 1968, there's some controversy about how the tradition started. According to the VA's website:

One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

After World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress and placed on the last Monday in May.

In 2000, Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act." encouraging all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

Learn more on the VA's website.

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