Published On: May 24 2012 12:15:22 PM EDTUpdated On: May 26 2014 02:00:00 AM EDT
A soldier plays taps at the end of Memorial Day services in Margraten, Holland, 1947. Memorial Day, a federal holiday once known as Decoration Day, is always held on the final Monday in May.
As included in the National Holiday Act of 1971, it is set aside as part of a three-day weekend as a time to honor U.S. servicemen and women who have died in military service to their country.
A crowd gathers at the Logan Monument in Grant Park, Chicago, during a Memorial Day parade in 1911. The monument honors Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, who on May 5, 1868, issued a proclamation calling for "Decoration Day" to be observed annually and nationwide.
The holiday that became Memorial Day was first observed a few weeks after Logan's proclamation on May 30, 1868, with flowers being placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Families and friends of fallen servicemen and women continue the tradition of decorating graves to this day.
U.S. Navy sailors and U.S. Marines stand aboard the USS Iwo Jima as the ship passes the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, during a parade of ships to start "Fleet Week" celebrations, which is held each Memorial Day weekend.
New York was the first state to officially recognize Memorial Day as a holiday in 1873.
After World War I, the holiday expanded to include all military personnel killed in all conflicts. (Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead.)
Some Americans wear red poppies on Memorial Day, a tradition started by poet Moina Michael, who was inspired by the poppies John McCrae wrote about in his ode to World War I, "In Flanders Fields." She began to sell red poppies to raise money to to benefit servicemen in need.
The tradition was picked up in France and Britain, where it thrives on Nov. 11 each year -- Armistice Day.
Children in rural Maine gather on Memorial Day in 1917. The three-day Memorial Day weekend is now regarded as a sort of official start of summer vacation in the United States.
Some know the holiday more for its traditional running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race.
Many towns and cities still stage Memorial Day parades, but they are attended by a fraction of the number of spectators who used to line parade routes.
Two visitors place flowers on a grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in Hawaii, on Memorial Day in 1991.
Concerned that the meaning behind Memorial Day was being forgotten, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 2000, asking that "all Americans come together to recognize how fortunate we are to live in freedom and to observe a universal 'National Moment of Remembrance' on each Memorial Day. This memorial observance represents a simple and unifying way to commemorate our history and honor the struggle to protect our freedoms."
On Memorial Day, the U.S. president traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery to deliver a speech honoring those who have died in service to their country and to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. President Barack Obama is seen here at the wreath ceremony on Memorial Day in 2014. Occasionally the vice president or another administration official will represent the president at the wreath-laying ceremony if the president is away from Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day.