At the National Veterans Foundation, Memorial Day means that our Lifeline for Vets will see a surge of calls. Because for many vets, it’s a day that dredges up memories of war and stirs up PTSD symptoms.

Please help us keep our Lifeline for Vets phone lines open to serve those in need. Your donation can be made in the name of a loved one who served.

Your donation can help save lives.

“For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts and made immortal their patriotism and virtuism. ”

— James A. Garfield

Memorial Day is So Much More than a Long Weekend

On Memorial Day mourners from all over the country will visit our national cemeteries, decorate the graves of fallen soldiers, and actively remember our honorable dead.

Memorial Day may mean an extra day off for many people. But it also means something much more profound than a long weekend.

It is a time to give ourselves over to gratitude and reflection. Almost two decades ago, Congress decreed that 3 pm local time on Memorial Day would become our official "National Moment of Remembrance," when every American is asked to pause for a moment to reflect on the true meaning behind Memorial Day.

Before we ask what this true meaning is, let's have a look at how Memorial Day came about.

A Brief History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was then called, actually began as a folk movement in the years after the Civil War. Its precise birthplace is unknown, but communities all over the country were decorating dead soldiers' graves every spring by the 1860s.

In May of 1868, General John Logan asked for an official day to be set aside for the remembrance of those who had died in defense of their country. Until World War I, Decoration Day was specifically intended for military personnel who had died in the Civil War. But as this global conflict continued, it became a day to remember the soldiers who had died in all American Wars.

The final step came in 1971, when Memorial Day became an official federal holiday, a day at the beginning of spring and all its new life to bring our warriors' sacrifices more firmly into our minds.

The Proper Observance of a Solemn Day

Since 1775, 1.8 million military men and women have died while fighting to defend their country. Let that sink in a moment. Beginning with the American Revolution, and continuing to this very day, 1.8 million warriors have sacrificed everything that they had in the name of a magnificent notion.

This number of deaths is staggering, almost inconceivable in fact, but it pales in comparison to a starker and more personal reality. This reality is the death of a single soldier and the impact it has his or her friends, family, and community. A number could never convey this reality property, no matter how high it is.

The only way to convey this dark and noble reality is by one mind reaching out to another in an act of true remembrance.
And this, above all else, is the meaning behind Memorial Day and the proper way to observe it.

Arlington Cemetery Memorial Day

The memories and the grieving reach far and wide.

Because loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s like a stone thrown into a pool…the ripples widen out and repeat. Most likely anyone who reads this carries a part of that loss.


Battle Deaths by the Numbers*

Civil War (1861-1865)

World War I (1917-1918)

World War II (1941 –1945)

Vietnam War (1964-1975)