Memorial Day honors American soldiers who died serving the U.S. in any war. Originally, Memorial Day honored those who died during the American Civil War (1861–1865). It wasn't until 1971 that Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, which is always celebrated the last Monday in May.
Memorializing those who fell in battle is an ancient practice, dating back thousands of years to the ancient Romans and Greeks who held feast days and decorated graves in honor of those who died. Even before the Civil War ended, women's groups in the South decorated the graves of Confederate dead. But it wasn't until America joined WWI (in 1917) that the tradition of commemorating those who died was expanded to those who were killed in all wars, especially until 1971, when Memorial Day became a federal holiday during the Vietnam War.
Want to learn more? Check out a book about Memorial Day, opens a new window, especially Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home, opens a new window and Thank You for Your Service, opens a new window.
|WAR/CONFLICT||CASUALTIES (Casualty Status U.S. Dept of Defense, opens a new window)|
|Civil War||Approximately 620,000|
|Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm||383|
|Operation Iraqi Freedom||4,431|
|Operation New Dawn||74|
|Operation Enduring Freedom||2,352|
|Operation Freedom's Sentinel||96 (as of May 2021)|
|Operation Inherent Resolve||104 (as of May 2021)|