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Memorial Day facts: 15 things you should know

Detailed Map of the United States of America
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Lots of people spend Memorial Day BBQing, playing at the beach, laying around a pool and celebrating the unofficial beginning of summer, but the holiday is actually so much more than that. Here are some Memorial Day facts you should know, including how and why it’s celebrated throughout the U.S, and even more importantly, share.

1. General John Logan proclaimed the day (known then as “Decoration Day”) in 1868 to remember the more than 600,000 fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Not until 1971 did it become an official national holiday.

2. At first, northern and southern states observed the day separately. Southern states didn’t join in the official celebration until after World War I, when its scope was broadened to include all fallen soldiers, not just those of the Civil War.

3. The poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae inspired “Red Poppy” charities and the tradition of wearing red poppies in remembrance.

Summer poppies at sunset
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4. The song “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” by George A. Norton (which later became a movie of the same name) is connected to the tradition of tying yellow ribbons around trees to welcome veterans home. The song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn also poignantly illustrates the practice.

5. Twenty-five different cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. The first official day of recognition was held by the state of New York.

6. More than 42 million veterans have served our country in times of war.

7. On Memorial Day, the flag is lowered to half staff only until noon and then raised back to full height until sundown — honoring both fallen and living veterans and current military members.

8. About 1.3 million U.S. service members have lost their lives serving their country.

9. There are 135 national cemeteries in 40 states, including Puerto Rico. While Arlington National Cemetery is the most famous, the largest is Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton, NY. It stretches over 1,000 acres and conducts more than 7,000 burials each year.

10. Nearly 1 million participants are expected to ride in the annual Memorial Day motorcycle rally in Washington D.C. known as Rolling Thunder. The tradition began 1988 with just 2,500 riders and continues to grow each year as a way to honor fallen soldiers, POWs and MIAs.

11. Memorial Day traffic will cause more than 50,000 injuries and 439 fatalities; of these, 44% will be alcohol-related.

American Flag Flying Over Bright Beach Scene
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12. More than 1.5 million people will watch the national Memorial Day parade on TV. More than 30 high school marching bands will perform and more than 1,000 active-duty service members will participate.

13. About 39% of Americans plan to travel over this weekend, 89% of them by car.

14. The most popular destination for Memorial Day weekend travel is Orlando, Florida.

15. This time of year is popular for sales on home goods, spring clothing and outdoor accessories such as grills. Many retailers offer military and veteran discounts.

Do you have any other Memorial Day facts? Share them in the comments below!

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