Because Memorial Day occurs during the bustling last few days and weeks of the school year, we sometimes overlook its importance. But the holiday is a powerful opportunity to connect students with the men and women who sacrificed all for the freedoms those students now enjoy.
According to History.com, Memorial Day first started as Decoration Day in the years after the American Civil War.
“The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries,” editors of History.com wrote about the day.
Because the Civil War affected so many families and communities gathered at these cemeteries during subsequent springs to honor these fallen soldiers and decorate their graves. Soon, most northern states made May 30th the official date for Decoration Day. Many southern states honored their dead on other dates until World War I.
After WWI, Decoration Day expanded to include all American military personnel who died in all wars or conflicts. Gradually Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day. In 1968, Congress declared it a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May. This change went into effect in 1971.
Today, American soldiers continue to serve, fight and die for freedoms across the world, and Memorial Day is still an important commemoration for their loved ones. Many families and communities decorate graves, hold solemn ceremonies, or host parades.
Studies Weekly has excellent materials about Memorial Day. From a simple description for younger grades on why we celebrate Memorial Day, to state-specific information about unique Memorial Day celebrations, you will find ideas for teaching and celebrating the day throughout our print publications and online platform.
Some of the most effective learning, though, can be through the voices of those who fought to preserve our freedoms. Our extensive library of video interviews with war veterans gives students a profound appreciation of those sacrifices.
Voices of War
Vietnam War veteran Charles Sudholt explains that there are no winners in war, just a “different degree of losing.”
WWII veteran Arlie Ray Horn talks about his experience at D Day. Roughly 1,200 people in his outfit died in that day.
Iraq War veteran and Army nurse, Tara Thompson, and WWII veteran Bud Bonham both share how different real war is from what we see in the movies.
Veteran Daniel Turner shares the fears and frustrations he experienced during the war in Iraq.
Gail Halvorsen, the famous Candy Bomber of WWII, shares his experience with the kids across a fence who inspired his candy runs.
Evelyn Louise Lee did not fly the planes of WWII, she built them. Hear her describe the dangers and excitement of building bombers during WWII.
Memorial Day is more than a day for cookouts to kick off the summer. It’s a day of gratitude and remembrance.