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The start of Memorial Day

According to the History channel's website, Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the American military.

The holiday was originally known as Decoration Day, and originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of summer.

Decoration Day was celebrated as a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.

On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:

"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. Following his speech, 5,000 participants helped decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War. Several cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg, Pa.; and Carbondale, Ill.

In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo, which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, because the town had made Memorial Day an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day is to honor all veterans, living and dead.)

Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony each year in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. It is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.

Avenue of Flags

Each Memorial Day, Oak Grove Cemetery is host to the Avenue of Flags. They will be on display May 27 after 4 p.m. until May 31.

Any family wishing to donate their deceased relative's flag can bring it to the Veteran's Service Office in the Becker County Courthouse before May 15. It will be included in the Memorial Day presentation.

In the interest of safety, the Avenue of Flags organizers ask that no visitation of the cemetery or vehicle traffic be done during the hours of 1 to 4 p.m. on the days the flags are raised and lowered.