What can you do to honor the sacrifice of those who died serving our country?

Before it became a federal holiday in 1971 and its observance moved to the last Monday in May, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day and took place on May 30th. This year, the last Monday in May actually falls on the original Decoration Day date.

The roots for Decoration Day go back to shortly after the Civil War when citizens paid local tributes to those who had died. In 1868, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an official proclamation for a nationwide Decoration Day observance. After World War I, the observance was expanded to honor all those who had died in service during any American war.

Since its transfer to make it part of a three-day weekend, however, Memorial Day has also become synonymous with the unofficial start of summer. Over the last 45 years, trips to the beach to kick-off the vacation season or local mall to take advantage of holiday sales have vied for attention with more traditional observances.

In keeping with day's more solemn purpose, here are a few things you could do this Memorial Day to honor our nation's fallen heroes.


1. Wear or display a red poppy.
Around Memorial Day, you usually can find Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) members selling paper red poppies in front of shopping centers. Now a widely recognized memorial symbol for soldiers who have died in conflict, the red poppy tradition grew from the World War I poem, "In Flanders Field," by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. The poem refers to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers in the lines:

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row."


 2. Pause at 3 p.m.
In accordance with the National Moment of Remembrance resolution, which was passed in 2000, pause from whatever you are doing at this time to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom to all.


3. Read the original Decoration Day proclamation.
Less than 500 words in length, Logan's proclamation, officially titled General Orders No. 11, is a sobering call-to-duty for all U.S. citizens.

4. Watch the National Memorial Day Concert.
Broadcast live from the U.S. Capitol Building's West Lawn, the National Memorial Day Concert has become a memorial service for the entire nation. Featuring the National Symphony Orchestra as well as military bands and choral groups, the concert is a moving tribute to the fallen and their families. This year's concert takes place on Sunday, May 29 at 8 p.m. and is broadcast on PBS.

5. Display the U.S. flag.
Do you have an American flag for your home? Since Memorial Day is a day of national mourning, fly the flag at half-staff from sunrise until noon to commemorate those who have died. The flag is raised back to full staff at 12 p.m. to honor living veterans.

6. Visit a national cemetery or memorial.
Attend the cemetery's Memorial Day ceremony or visit the graves of fallen soldiers and place flowers. Many cemeteries have memorials and pathways commemorating soldiers and veterans. Click here for a list of all national cemeteries by state. If you do not have a national cemetery in your area, click here to see if there is a state veterans cemetery nearby.

7. Attend a parade.
There are countless Memorial Day parades of all sizes in communities across the country. Don red, white and blue clothes, bring a small flag to wave, and join in the tribute.

8. Commit your time.
Research agencies in your area that work with veterans or active military servicemembers and their families – the local VA hospital, USO center or homeless shelter, for example – and commit to volunteer your time on a regular basis.

9. Make a financial donation.
Many veterans agencies and national organizations are always in need of financial support. Charity Navigator offers a list of reputable charities that provide wounded troops services, military social services and military family support.

10. Pray for the fallen and our nation.
Attend a religious service at your church or spend some time praying for the souls of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, for their family members, for our country's future and for peace in the world.


What do you plan to do this Memorial Day to honor our nation's fallen heroes?

Image credits: DoD on Flickr/Creative Commons; Milleflore Images and Cory A Ulrich on Shutterstock; and Mary Martinez-Drovie