Memorial Day is an American holiday honoring the men and women who died while serving in the US military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

The Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in US history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war—a tradition that began with a World War I poem. We encourage you to take time and reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day. Be thankful for those who gave their lives for our freedom.