The first widely observed Memorial Day occurred on May 30th, 1868. Earlier that month Union General John A. Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization, proclaimed the 30th to be a day for decorating the graves of Civil War dead with flowers and honoring them for their sacrifice. The decorating of graves of war dead on specific days was a practice that had been going on in the south since the war ended.
The idea of Decoration Day as it was called, caught on quickly, and every northern state had adapted it as a state holiday by 1890. It gradually became known as Memorial Day, and during World War I it changed from being a day to honor Civil War dead to a day to honor those Americans who died in any of the nation’s wars. By act of Congress, in 1971 Memorial Day was among the holidays changed from a fixed date to a Monday to create a three day weekend. Despite its nationwide observance, Memorial Day was not declared a national holiday until that 1971 observance. Memorial Day is now celebrated on the last Monday in May, which sometimes falls on the original date of May 30th.
Though it is also regarded as the unofficial start of summer, the graves of the fallen are still decorated with flowers and American flags, memorial ceremonies are held at cemeteries, and Memorial Day parades are widespread in honor of those from all wars who gave, as Abraham Lincoln put it “the last full measure of devotion”.