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How to Observe Memorial Day with Veterans

On the last Monday of May, Americans observe Memorial Day. But the purpose of Memorial Day is often lost on a large part of the American public. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the University of Phoenix, only 55 percent of Americans know the true meaning of Memorial Day.

What is Memorial Day?

The short answer is Memorial Day is when we take a moment to honor the men and women who have died in service to our country.

PBS dives a little deeper into the history of Memorial Day saying, “It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers.”

“During that first national commemoration, former Union Gen. and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.”

How is Memorial Day different from Veterans Day?

Make no mistake, Memorial Day is not Veterans Day. For one thing, Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday in May, while Veterans Day is November 11.

But it’s more than that. Memorial Day honors the fallen, while Veterans Day honors the people who have served their country. In other words, veterans honored on Veterans Day can still be alive.

Should I thank a veteran on Memorial Day?

Do not thank a veteran on Memorial Day.

For many veterans, Memorial Day is a day that they are remembering the friends that they lost while in service. As one Navy Veteran told NPR, “On Memorial Day, the veteran you’re talking to may be going through a bit of melancholy remembering people who died over the years.”

Be mindful that for many veterans, this is a day of mourning.

Is “Happy Memorial Day” okay to say?

As stated earlier, Memorial Day is meant to be a day of mourning, so saying “Happy Memorial Day” isn’t something you want to do.

What should I say instead of Happy Memorial Day?

According to the website DiversityInc, consider the following phrases:

  • “Enjoy your weekend, but I want you to know that I will be remembering what this holiday is about.”
  • “Enjoy your weekend and I will be thinking about those that are no longer with us.”
  • “I will be taking a moment this weekend to honor those that served our nation and are no longer with us.”

How can I observe Memorial Day in the time of COVID-19?

In this time of COVID-19, it will be more difficult to observe Memorial Day. According to, national cemeteries will be open, though flags will not be placed at gravesites as they have in years past. Depending on the local rules in your city or county, you may also be required to wear a mask when you visit a gravesite at a national cemetery.

If you have a loved one that you would like to honor, the American Legion is using social media to honor the fallen. You can find out how to sign up, here.

According to the Memorial Day Foundation, if you fly the American flag at your facility, you can fly it at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day. It’s tradition to then raise the flag to full-staff until sunset.

You can also participate in a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3:00 p.m. local time. It’s a moment to pause and think about the meaning of Memorial Day. Taps can also be played at this moment.

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