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Memorial Day: Commemorating and Remembering Our Veterans and Those Who Serve


[American Military Personnel, United States, 1860s.], Digital ID 831506, New York Public LibraryAmerican Military Personnel, United States, 1860s.

Did you know that Memorial Day goes as far back as the American Civil War in the 1860s?

Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, occurs ever year on the last Monday of the month of May and is the day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

President T. Roosevelt's visit to Brooklyn, Memorial Day. A glimpse of the long and imposing parade

For the past two centuries, the U.S. has been involved in many wars domestically and aboard. Many service men and women have put aside their jobs, families and lives to defend our country and principals of freedom during times of crisis.

Military history can be a deep and fascinating research area; many of our collections, specifically primary resources reveal the fervors and intensities of these wars and their outcomes: tragic losses, sufferings, fears and uncertainties. Our collections also focus on the roles and services of women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and LGBT in the military.

According to The Oxford Companion to American Military History, here are some statistics that show the numbers and rankings of American military casualties based on the wars of the 20th century:

  • World War II (1941-1945) Deaths: 291,557
  • American Civil War (1861-1865) Deaths: 214,938 (Union and Confederate soldiers)
  • World War I (1917-1918) Deaths: 53,402
  • Vietnam War (1955-1975) Deaths: 47,355
  • Korean War (1950-1953) Deaths: 33,746

To honor our fallen soldiers and veterans for their bravery and sacrifice, the U.S. government created a day to commemorate their dedications officially in 1971. Here are some other interesting facts about this holiday:

  • The first observance of Memorial Day (first called Decoration Day) was held on May 30th, 1868, to honor soldiers killed in the Civil War.
  • In addition to Memorial Day, our country also remembers and celebrates our veterans and servicemen and women (living or dead) in November for Veterans Day.
  • According to Time Magazine, "After the Civil War, General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a holiday commemorating fallen soldiers to be observed every May 30. But due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which took effect in 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday of May to ensure long weekends."
  • Currently there are nine states that observe Confederate Memorial Day in various days; the soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War: Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia.
  • According to the American Automobile Association, Memorial Day Weekend is one of the busiest and most frequently traveled weekends in America; approximately 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more. This weekend also unofficially welcomes the summer season.

Grand Review, Decoration Day, New York, U.S.A., Digital ID g91f182_050f, New York Public LibraryGrand Review, Decoration Day, New York

Additional NYPL Resources on Military and Veterans Studies:


Captain H. M. Bragg
Captain H. M. Bragg, Of General Gillmore's Staff, Raising The Flag Over Fort Sumter, February 18th, 1865


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