In 1868, Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a memorial day "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land."
The first national celebration of the holiday took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried. Originally
known as Decoration Day, at the turn of the 20th century the holiday was designated as Memorial Day. In many American cities and towns, the day is observed with a parade.
Today, the president traditionally places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier each Memorial Day. Many veterans of the Vietnam War, and relatives and friends of those who fought in that conflict, make a pilgrimage over Memorial Day weekend to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where they pay their respects to another generation of fallen soldiers. You can view Maya Lin's proposal for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the "Memory" section of the exhibition "American Treasures of the Library of Congress." This exhibition, which draws from every corner of the Library's enormous American historical collections, can be viewed online along with more than 40 other Exhibitions.
The Library of Congress's American Folklife Center has a Veterans History Project that is gathering audio and videotaped histories along with documentary materials such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, and home movies, of America's war veterans and those who served in support of them.
For more Memorial Day resources go to the American Memory search page and type in "Memorial Day" or "Decoration Day."
A. "Memorial Day, May 30th." Created/published in New York by the Federal Art Project, 1936 or 1937
B. John Collier, "Sailor and Girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, D.C.," 1943. Prints and Photographs Division. Call No.: LC-USW36-723. Reproduction No. LC-USW361-723 DLC (color film copy slide)