By Heather Brown

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first published in 2019.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Memorial Day is often considered the unofficial start to summer – a day to barbeque, go to the lake or just spend time with friends and family. Sometimes, the important reason behind why it’s even considered a holiday can be forgotten.

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So, Charlie from Bloomington asked for a reminder: How did Memorial Day start? Good Question.

The idea of Memorial Day started in the years after the Civil War.

An organization of Union veterans – the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) – decided May 30 should be a day to honor the service members who lost their lives in the War.

At the time, it was called Decoration Day because families would decorate the graves of the war dead. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, May 30 was chosen because flowers would be in bloom across the country.

By the end of the 19th century, local communities in the U.S. were celebrating the day with parades and tributes.

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After World War I, the day was expanded to honor all those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. In 1971, Congress made Memorial Day an official holiday and moved it to the last Monday in May.

“Memorial Day is really a solemn day,” says Major Scott Hawks with the Minnesota National Guard. “It’s a day where we should be remembering our service members who sacrificed their lives, who fought for us in the past, who have lost their lives.”

In the U.S. there are two official federal holidays that recognize veterans – Veterans Day and Memorial Day — and there are times when people confuse the two.

Veterans Day honors those who have served, while Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in service.

Major Hawks says it’s fine to celebrate Memorial Day with family and friends because those are the freedoms the service members died for.

“My preference would be to just recognize the fact that we have service members,” he says. “Go to your local parade, go to a cemetery or volunteer on Memorial Day.”

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In 2000, Congress passed the National Law of Remembrance. It encourages everyone to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to reflect on service members’ sacrifices.

Heather Brown