Memorial Day

Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

A sailor and a girl visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1943 CREDIT: Collier, John photographer. “Sailor and Girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, D.C.,” 1943. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-DIG-fsac-1a34521.

A sailor and a girl visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1943
CREDIT: Collier, John photographer. “Sailor and Girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, D.C.,” 1943. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-DIG-fsac-1a34521.