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Memorial Day: A Brief History

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This Memorial Day, AmeriGas is proud to play a big part in cookouts across the nation. But more importantly, it’s a time to remember the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our armed forces.

Did you know that Memorial Day didn’t start out the way we celebrate it today? Do you know when, where, or how Memorial Day even began? Read on to learn more…

It started over 150 years ago. On May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, NY, a ceremony honored local veterans who fought in the Civil War (which had just ended a year earlier). Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

Two years later, it gets a name. On May 5, 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) created Decoration Day, a day for Americans to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.

Flower power influences the date. It’s believed that Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared Decoration Day to be May 30 because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

It wasn’t always for all fallen soldiers. It was only after World War I that Memorial Day expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. 

LBJ makes the birthplace official. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, with the support of Congress, declares Waterloo the birthplace of Memorial Day. 

No longer a date, but a day. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a federal holiday and that it would no longer take place on May 30, but rather the last Monday in May.

A new millennium brings a new moment. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signs an act which asks Americans to observe a Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day at 3:00 p.m. Many organizations observe this moment, including Amtrak (who blasts their train whistles), Major League Baseball, and NASCAR.

On behalf of the AmeriGas family, we honor the U.S. service men and women this Memorial Day who gave their lives for our country and our freedom.