Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday in May, honors service members who have died in all U.S. wars. Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day even though both federal holidays acknowledge military members. Veterans Day is an opportunity for Americans to publicly recognize living military veterans while Memorial Day is a solemn reminder of the valiant service members who have sacrificed their lives in service to the country.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War Soldiers.
Army Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the veterans’ organization, Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30 as Decoration Day. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May. The law took effect in 1971 at the federal level. The National Moment of Remembrance established by Congress in 2000 sets aside a moment for all Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity.
On May 24, 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation making Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, a Day of Prayer for Permanent Peace. (read the proclamation text)