How much do you know about Memorial Day?

John Miller

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About This Quiz

Memorial Day is one of the most misinterpreted holidays on the American calendar. It was originally meant to be a solemn day, but now it stands for a lot of different things. How much do you know about this three-day weekend?

What does Memorial Day recognize?

Memorial Day recognizes those who sacrificed their lives while serving in America's armed forces. Many people take the time to visit cemeteries and war memorials to honor the dead.

Memorial Day is a ______.

In America, Memorial Day is a federal holiday. Government employees (and most other employees) get the day off of work to celebrate and relax.

Memorial Day is celebrated during which month?

Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday of May. The exact date varies depending on where that Monday falls on the calendar.

The first Memorial Day holiday was meant to honor the dead of which war?

In the 1860s, the Civil War ripped the country to shreds. The holiday was created in part to help people pay their respects to the dead and also to help heal the country as a whole, too.

It wasn't always called Memorial Day. What was it first named?

Memorial Day wasn't always called Memorial Day. It was first named Decoration Day and meant to honor the Civil War dead.

Before it was moved to the last Monday of May, Memorial Day was celebrated on a specific date. What was that date?

Memorial Day (Decoration Day) was originally celebrated on May 30 each year. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 changed it instead to the last Monday of May, to the chagrin of some groups.

Why do some veterans organizations want Memorial Day to be celebrated on May 30 instead of the last Monday of May?

Changing the holiday from May 30 to the last Monday in May means one thing to many people -- it's a three-day weekend. Veterans groups decried the move, believing it altered Memorial Day from a day of remembrance to a weekend of partying.

It took a while for the name to change from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day." When did federal law officially change the name?

It took around a century for the name change to become official. In 1967, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day.

Memorial Day now features a National Moment of Remembrance, during which Americans are encouraged to do what?

Since legislation of 2000, Memorial Day has included a National Moment of Remembrance. At that moment, Americans are encouraged to stop their busy lives for a moment to remember the war dead.

The National Moment of Remembrance is a relatively recent addition. What time of the day does the moment take place?

The moment of remembrance is scheduled for 3 p.m. local time across the country. Train whistles blast, baseball games pause and millions of people stop for a brief time to remember the sacrifices of war heroes.

The war dead already have a whole national holiday to themselves. Why did they need a moment of remembrance, too?

In the 90s, polls showed that the vast majority of Americans had no clue what Memorial Day was really all about. The moment of remembrance was in part a public relations move to help people recognize the holiday's true meaning.

Only one town is federally recognized as the birthplace of Memorial Day. What is that town?

The U.S. government recognizes only Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the presidential proclamation declaring as much in 1966.

True or false, Memorial Day is essentially the same thing as Veteran's Day?

Memorial Day honors the men and women who died in service to their country. Veterans' Day, on the other hand, honors everyone (living or dead) who served in the armed forces.

On Memorial Day, it's customary to fly the American flag at half-mast. Then at noon, what happens?

It's a tradition to leave the flag at half-mast. Then, at noon local time, you continue observance of Memorial Day by raising the American flag to the top of the flagpole until sunset.

Why was a date in May chosen for Memorial Day?

No one is certain, but some historians say the late May date was chosen because it's when flowers bloom across the land, a symbol of hope and renewal after great loss.

Memorial Day was inspired by the Civil War, and until _____ it was still meant as primarily a way to honor the Civil War dead.

Until World War I, Memorial Day was essentially a Civil War holiday. But the immensity of The Great War helped to make Memorial Day a way to honor all American war dead.

One older tradition of Memorial Day found Americans eating picnic lunches in which area?

For a time, it was common for Americans to take picnic lunches to local graveyards. It was just another way for them to remember the men and women who died during their time in the service.

In 1868, Gen. John A. Logan issued a proclamation that war graves should be decorated with _______.

Gen. John A. Logan was the top commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. In announcing Decoration Day, he insisted that Americans place the "choicest" flowers on the graves of war dead.

Which major sporting event often coincides with Memorial Day?

It's just a coincidence, but the Indianapolis 500 is almost always on the same weekend as Memorial Day -- so much so that many sports fans misinterpret the meaning of the holiday weekend.

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the biggest cemeteries in America. It has how many military graves?

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most common destinations for Americans who honor war dead on Memorial Day. There are over 400,000 graves on the site, which sprawls for more than 600 acres.

During Memorial Day weekend, soldiers perform a "Flags In" ceremony, in which they do what?

During the famous "Flags In" tradition, soldiers place small American flags right in front of each headstone.

One flower (pinned to clothing) is often used as a symbol of remembrance during Memorial Day. Which flower is it?

During the World War I era, it became common for people to pin artificial poppies to their clothing as a way to remember the war dead. The tradition started thanks to a poem titled "In Flanders Fields," in which the writer noticed red poppies growing near soldiers' graves.

Interpretations vary, but many people say the poppies in the poem "In Flanders Field" doesn't refer to flowers at all. Instead, those red "poppies" symbolize ______.

The phrase “though poppies grow in Flanders fields” very likely refers to blood seeping from shallow graves during World War I. Hey, no one said Memorial Day was supposed to be lighthearted affair.

Memorial Day was meant to honor America's bloodiest war. Which war was second-deadliest after the Civil War?

The Civil War claimed around 620,000 troops combined. World War II was a distant second, with just over 400,000. World War I killed about 120,000 Americans … almost all from disease.

Since the Civil War, in all wars combined, about how many women and men have died serving in the U.S. armed forces?

With all wars combined, about one million personnel have died serving in America's armed forces. Millions more have been wounded in combat.

Which U.S. president signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act?

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. The act helped to re-educate the American people about the importance of Memorial Day.

Several Southern states also celebrate a special memorial recognizing the Civil War dead of the South. What's that holiday called?

Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday in six states, including Alabama and Florida. It's observed on varying dates, but the most official dates are set at the end of April or beginning of May.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday. When did it achieve that status?

Memorial Day has been celebrated since the Civil War era. But it wasn't designated as a federal holiday until 1971, which was notably during the middle of the contentious Vietnam War era.

True or false, all employees have Memorial Day off from work?

All federal employees (and those in the District of Columbia) have Memorial Day off. For everyone else, Memorial Day may (or may not) be a vacation day.

Memorial Day honors the war dead. It also definitely jump starts _______.

Memorial Day is an important war holiday. It's also the official start to the summer vacation season, which ends in September on Labor Day.

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