A day to remember and honor the fallen
It was three years after the end of the Civil War and the GAR, an organization of Union veterans, sought to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in battle.
May 30 was selected for the annual observance of Decoration Day. There is no record as to why the date was chosen; however, it is likely because flowers would be in bloom and available throughout the nation. The first observance organized by the GAR was held at Arlington National Cemetery, and honored Union and Confederate soldiers alike with flowers and small American flags placed on each grave.
Decoration Day was not the first tribute to lives lost in the Civil War. A number of cities in Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York claimed to have held decoration ceremonies as many as two years prior to the GAR’s first Decoration Day observance. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y. as the official “birthplace” of Memorial Day, recognizing that the town’s May 5, 1866 ceremony was the first formal, community-wide tribute to fallen Civil War veterans.