Memorial Day is more than a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer — it was created to pay tribute to soldiers who have served in the U.S. military. The holiday, which dates back to the Civil War, has a rich history of honoring the men and women who have died for our country.
Originally, Memorial Day was meant to honor deceased Civil War soldiers by encouraging citizens to decorate their graves with flowers and flags. It was called Decoration Day. The tradition began on May 30, 1868 when General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.
After General Garfield spoke, 5,000 people decorated the graves of over 20,000 soldiers laid to rest in the historic cemetery in Washington, D.C. The origin of the holiday is often contested, however, because many communities adopted a similar tradition. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the birthplace of Memorial Day because the entire community recognized the holiday annually beginning on May 5, 1866 — two years earlier than Garfield’s Decoration Day.
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated throughout the country with a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery with a speech given by the president or vice-president and flags are placed at every one of the 300,000 soldiers’ graves.
Scroll through the slideshow below to see some of the most famous memorials in the U.S.
The Jefferson Memorial is dedicated to American founding father Thomas Jefferson. Inside of the domed building is a bronze statue of Jefferson and excerpts of the original Declaration of Independence, which he wrote.
Photo Credit: Bigstock Images
Built to honor the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial has been the site of many famous speeches and marches. This is fitting, as In his time Lincoln was known as a great speaker and thinker. The memorial is also the home of the world-famous statue of him, which stands at 19 feet tall. Photo Credit: Bigstock Images
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
The FDR memorial is notable because it is dedicated not only to the president, but to the era he lived in. Much of his time in office was spent dealing with the Great Depression, one of the most difficult times in the world's history. There is also a statue of his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, making it the only presidential memorial to feature a First Lady. Photo Credit: Bigstock Images
As the world's tallest obelisk, the Washington Monument is instantly recognizable. It's dedicated to the first American president, George Washington. Construction on the monument began in 1848, but had to be put on hold due to the money running out and the beginning of the Civil War. It was finally completed in 1884. Photo Credit: Bigstock Images
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Located in Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the burial ground for soldiers whose names were lost after they died in war. There are several soldiers from World War 1, World War II, and the Korean War laid to rest there. The tomb is constantly under guard, with soldiers serving 24 hour shifts to watch over the monument. Photo Credit: Bigstock Images
Korean War Veterans Memorial
This memorial, opened in 1995, commemorates the soldiers who served in the Korean War. It features a Pool of Remembrance and 19 statues. The statues represent a squad on patrol, dressed in full combat gear. There are also several memorial walls. Photo Credit: Bigstock Images
The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame
This memorial honors U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. The former president and his family are buried there. There is also a flame constantly burning to honor him and all that he did in his unfortunately brief time as president. Photo Credit: Bigstock Images