The custom of honoring the graves of the war dead began before the end of the Civil War, but the national Memorial Day holiday (or “Decoration Day,” as it was originally named) was first observed on May 30, 1868, on the order of General John Alexander Logan for the purpose of decorating the graves of the American Civil War dead. As time passed, Memorial Day was extended to honor all those who died in service to the nation, from the Revolutionary War to the present. It continued to be observed on May 30th until 1971, when most states changed to a newly established federal schedule of holiday observance.
Every day should be Memorial Day. More than 260,000 persons who served our country are buried at Arlington Cemetery, officially designated as a military cemetery by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, June 15, 1864. There are also four courts that hold up to 5,000 niches each for cremated remains of military personnel.
The Tomb of the Unknowns holds three unidentified soldiers – a World War I soldier interred in 1921, World War II soldier interred in 1958, and a soldier from the Korean Conflict also interred in 1958. In 1984, a soldier from the Viet Nam War was interred there; however his remains were disinterred in 1998, and identified and buried near his home. That tomb will remain empty. The 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) began sentry of the Tomb of the Unknowns April 6, 1948, 24 hours per day, 365 days per week.
We salute all the veterans who have served our country in past wars, and those men and women who bravely serve us today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. Thanks to them, we can celebrate our freedom and safety every day.