How You Can Make an Impact this Memorial Day

It’s celebrated every year, but do you know the history behind Memorial Day? Once called “Decoration Day,” this date holds an important history.

In order to make an impact this Memorial Day, learn the history behind this holiday and find ways to get involved in your community, such as volunteering with veterans or donating goods.

The history behind Memorial Day

The origins of Memorial Day date back to the late 1860s. The Civil War, a conflict whose death toll was unprecedented at that time, necessitated the creation of national cemeteries. After the war ended, Americans would leave flowers at the graves of soldiers who had died in battle. It became an unofficial tradition for certain towns to commemorate fallen soldiers through special tributes in the spring.

General John A. Logan used the term “Decoration Day” to describe a national day that he believed was necessary to remember lives lost during the Civil War. General Logan proposed the date of May 30, and Memorial Day was honored on this date for years. In 1966, the U.S. government declared Waterloo, New York as the holiday’s birthplace. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which declared Memorial Day as an official federal holiday and moved its spot to the last Monday in May.

Although Memorial Day was originally meant to honor fallen soldiers from the Civil War, it has since evolved to honor service members lost during any military conflict.  

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How to commemorate Memorial Day year-round

Though Memorial Day is typically celebrated with barbecues by American families, it is, in fact, one of the most somber of American holidays.

There are countless ways to give back in recognition of the American lives that have been lost in battle. Memorial Day awareness need not be limited to one day of the year. Here are some ways you can get involved year-round:

  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter

    • U.S. veterans account for an estimated 23 percent of the homeless population, or about 131,000 people in total. By working at a homeless shelter—whether through preparing or serving food, cleaning, or interacting with people—you’re likely to make a difference in the lives of former military servicemen and women.

  • Contribute to the Veterans History Project

    • The mission of the Veterans History Project is to preserve the stories of former U.S. war veterans. Through first-hand veteran accounts, future generations can learn a tremendous amount about past wars and their far-reaching effects. Click here to print your kit and to prepare for your interview with a veteran. Once you’re finished, you must send your materials to the Library of Congress.   

  • Donate goods or funds

    • The veteran need for food, clothing, and funding is ongoing. Operation Homefront allows you to read the personal stories of veterans seeking assistance to gain an understanding of who you are donating to. If you or your family has a car that does not get much use, you might also consider donating it to the Purple Heart Foundation.

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This Memorial Day, remember the reason you’re able to enjoy a three-day weekend. Make a difference this May, and every month of the year, by supporting veteran-focused charities.

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