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The history of Memorial Day, a day to pay tribute to those who died serving in the military

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Posted at 8:57 AM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-25 08:57:36-04

The three-day weekend is the unofficial start to summer, and many take advantage of the time to grill, shop, and get together. However, let's remember the real reason we take this time off - to pay tribute to those who died serving in the military. This holiday has a long history.

Many cities claim to be the birthplace of this national holiday, but one was officially declared. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says on May 5th, 1866, a ceremony was held in Waterloo, New York, to honor local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed, and residents flew flags at half-staff. One hundred years later, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo the 'birthplace' of Memorial Day.

It's also known as Decoration Day, a name coined by Major General John A. Logan in 1868 as a time to decorate the graves of those who died in the war with flowers.

After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday.

To this day, the men and women we've lost are recognized at ceremonies and gravesites across the country, including Arlington National Cemetery, a focal point of national commemoration.

So, when you eat, shop for deals, and take time off work, remember to think about those who died to allow us that freedom.

Number of Americans who died in U.S. Wars (Courtesy of CNN)
Civil War - Approximately 620,000 Americans died.
World War I - 116,516 Americans died, more than half from disease.
World War II - 405,399 Americans died.
Korean War - 36,574 Americans died.
Vietnam Conflict - 58,220 Americans died.
Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm - 383 service members died.
Operation Iraqi Freedom - 4,410 service members died.
Operation New Dawn - 73 service members died.
Operation Enduring Freedom - 2,347 service members died.
Operation Freedom's Sentinel - 90 service members have died as of May 2020.
Operation Inherent Resolve - 95 service members have died as of May 2020.