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What did Memorial Day Used to be Called?

Apr 30, 2015 02:40PM ● Published by Charles Reichblum

The month of May brings us Memorial Day, but Memorial Day used to have a different name. It was originally called Decoration Day—for a very good reason. The holiday started in Civil War times when people took this day to ‘decorate’ the graves of military personnel killed in the war. 

As time went on, groups like the American Legion campaigned to remember servicemen and women who died in all of the wars, and the name of the holiday gradually began to be called Memorial Day. Congress made the name change official in 1971 and moved the holiday from its original May 30 date to the last Monday of May each year.

Incidentally, there is some confusion about the difference between Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November. Memorial Day remembers men and women who died in military service, while Veterans Day honors all U.S. military veterans. 

The coming of Memorial Day is a good time to reflect on the story of the nation’s highest military award—the Medal of Honor. This award is given for “personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty,” and was first given during the Civil War.  

There have been two father-son combinations that have won the Medal of Honor. One is Douglas MacArthur, who won his medal in World War II, and his father, Arthur MacArthur, for his service in the Civil War. The other father-son combination is former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt for his famous charge on San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, and his son, Theodore Jr., for his bravery in World War II.  

Only one woman has ever won the Medal of Honor. She was Mary Edwards Walker, an army surgeon during the Civil War who treated wounded soldiers while battles were raging around her.    

The nation’s oldest military award still given is the Purple Heart, for those killed or wounded in action. The Purple Heart was created by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and still carries his picture on the medal. 

Among other military awards are the Army-Navy-Air Force Cross medals for extraordinary heroism, and Distinguished Service medals and Silver and Bronze Stars for gallantry in action and meritorious service.

Dr. Knowledge is heard on KDKA and the CBS radio network with his “Knowledge in a Nutshell” feature, and is author of the “Knowledge in a Nutshell” book series. His website is

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