Memorial Day: Commemorating and Remembering Our Veterans and Those Who Serve
May 27th is Memorial Day. Did you know that this U.S. federal holiday 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.
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.
Additional NYPL Resources on Military and Veterans Studies:
- Discover photos and images of American Veterans and Soldiers in our Digital Gallery >>
- Interested in hearing more about veterans and their stories? Check out NYPL's NYC Veterans Oral History Project >>
- Find books, films and online resources at NYPL on American military history and studies >>
- Are you a U.S. veteran or know of one who needs work assistance? Check out the Workforce 1 Veterans Career Center at NYPL >>
- Explore the Library of Congress Digital Collections of Civil War Soldiers >>
- Looking for archival sources in American military history at NYPL? Check out the Find Archival Materials search tool for letters, papers and documents from American soldiers >>
- The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in NYC will host a series of public programs during Memorial Day Weekend >>
- Making plans for the upcoming long weekend? Check out Time Out New York at NYPL to get some ideas! >>
- Learn more about updates and services to veterans in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs >>