One of the most enduring traditions of Memorial Day is the decoration of the graves of fallen service members with such items as flowers and American flags. This annual day of commemoration was at one time referred to as Decoration Day because of this practice.
My grandmother grew up in the deep South, where tradition held that you took an annual pilgrimage to your family cemetery, which in their case required a road trip to southern Arkansas, to clean and decorate the graves of all of your ancestors. This tradition may have inspired the post Civil War movement to decorate the graves of those who died in military service. While the holiday was referred to as both Decoration Day and Memorial Day for decades, Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday in 1971 and is now celebrated on the last Monday in May.
Gestures of respect and commemoration on Memorial Day are made in acts both small and large, personal and ceremonial. Gratitude for the sacrifice and service of millions of American men and women takes place in all parts of the world, in countries where service members fell fighting as well as at memorials in the United States. Journey to the graves in Arlington National Cemetery, in small rural cemeteries and in foreign lands, and travel to battlefields and memorials where many are named and remembered through the images below.
- Read past posts about Memorial Day from various blogs of the Library of Congress, collected in Remembering Our Honored Dead: A Memorial Day Round Up from Teaching with the Library of Congress, including a post from Picture This: From Decoration Day to Memorial Day.
- View additional images on the subject of Memorial Day and related to Decoration Day in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- View photographs of Arlington National Cemetery over the years.
- The Library of Congress is commemorating Memorial Day with an open house in the Main Reading Room. Prints & Photographs Division and staff of other research centers will be on hand to highlight our collections and services. If you’re in Washington, D.C., this Memorial Day, please join us!