Memorial Day 2019: Facts, Why We Observe It, and How It's Different From Veterans Day

Each year on Memorial Day, Americans take a pause from their busy schedules to remember those who gave their lives to protect the freedoms people enjoy daily.

Occurring on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day will be celebrated on May 27, 2019. While most people are aware the holiday honors America's military, at times, the significance of Memorial Day and Veterans Day are conflated.

Veterans Day is commemorated in November and honors all those who have served their country, including those who have passed away. However, it's primarily focused on thanking those who have served who are still alive.

Memorial Day, on the other hand, is designed to honor those service members who passed away, especially those who gave their lives in the line of duty.

In 1868, then-Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed May 30 to be Decoration Day. At first, people honored only Union and Confederate soldiers. However, it was expanded after World War I to include all service members who perished in all wars. As of 2018, the United States Census Bureau reported Memorial Day honors more than one million men and women who have died in military service since the Civil War.

memorial day facts how it's different from veterans day
An American Flag waves in the breeze at a veteran's grave site at the National Cemetery in Houston on May 19, 2015, prior to Memorial Day. Robert Barnes / Contributor

Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day and was moved to the last Monday in May in 1968 with the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Years after it became a holiday, then-President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the "Birthplace of Memorial Day" because it began holding formal observances two years before Decoration Day was an official holiday, according to the Library of Congress.

In December 2000, Congress passed and then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Moment of Remembrance Act. It called for people to participate in a "symbolic act of unity" and pause at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember the men and women "who died in pursuit of freedom and peace."

The Civil War was the deadliest of all America's confrontations with over 500,000 people dying, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since the Civil War, America has participated in seven other wars, with casualties identified as:

  • Spanish-American War: 2,446
  • World War I: 116,516
  • World War II: 405,339
  • Korean War: 54,246
  • Vietnam War: 90,220
  • Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 1,948

In the post-9/11-era, Brown University found from October 2001 until October 2018, 6,951 military members were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, that number does not account for all military causalities in the Global War on Terror.

Each year on Memorial Day, services are held at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, including a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and an observance program at the Memorial Amphitheater.