memorial day timeline

What Do 1.3 Million Lives Mean to You?

1,321,612. Do you know what this number represents? It represents the total number of U.S. deaths as a result of war. That number is staggering to me, as I cannot say I know one of them.

The men and women who serve our country in the armed forces seem distant, almost unreal. Memorial Day serves as an annual reminder to some of us, but many times, unless it hits close to home, we don’t truly understand the magnitude of it.

This is why instead of focusing on the opening of the local swimming pool, grilling out, and the unofficial kickoff to summer, we should make sure our kids value Memorial Day and what it represents.

Memorial Day is the day to remember those who sacrificed their lives to defend our nation and our freedom. It’s our job to teach them the importance and history of Memorial Day. Here is a Memorial Day Timeline to get you and your kids started and a great video that teaches the history of Memorial Day.

  • May 5, 1866 – The city of Waterloo, NY officially started the holiday when Waterloo citizens closed their shops and businesses to decorate graves.
  • May 30, 1868 – John A. Logan spearheaded an effort to unite all decoration services as one national holiday, called Decoration Day. Five-thousand war widows and orphans gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to place flowers and ribbons on the 20,000 graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
  • May 30, 1873 – The state of New York became the first state to officially recognize the holiday.
  • End of the 1800s – The holiday was renamed Memorial Day, although most southern states refused to commemorate the day saying it honored Union soldiers.
  • January 1, 1920 – After World War I ended, the northern and southern states came together and Memorial Day became a day to honor all who had died in war all the way back to the Revolutionary War, not just the Civil War.
  • November 1, 1921 – On this day, Armistice Day, the first “unknown” soldier was honored with a wreath laying service. Every year since then, the President or the Vice-President attends the service.
  • 1971 – Congress shifted Memorial Day from May 30th to the fourth Monday in May, which gave Federal workers a 3-day weekend.
  • Now –All across America, parades and vigils happen on Memorial Day each year to honor those who have given their lives. 

Huddle up with your kids tonight and ask: “What do you think Memorial Day is about?”