The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend todays observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.
The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nations wars: Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.
National Moment of Remembrance
To ensure the sacrifices of America s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law The National Moment of Remembrance Act, P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commissions charter is to encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: Its a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.
Much of the above article courtesy of the Veterans Administration (VA)