At the end of the American civil war thousands of men from both sides lay in countless graves across the country. By the late 1860's communities across America were holding tributes to the fallen, putting flowers on their graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns. Those small beginnings led to what we know as Memorial Day today.
John Logan, a Union general, called for a national day of remembrance on May 30th, 1868 and on that day general James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National cemetery where 5000 attendee's decorated the graves of 20,000 union and confederate soldiers buried there. The tradition caught on and by 1890 every state had its own Decoration day.
Originally, Decoration day only honored those men lost in the civil war, but as WW 1 progressed the holiday was generally accepted to honor soldiers who had fallen in any war. For decades Memorial Day fell on May 30th, regardless of what the actual day was. But in 1968 congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, setting Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, thus giving federal employees a 3 day weekend.
So as you stoke up your Bar-B-Ques and pop open the can of beer just before the big game, take a moment to remember Why you have this 3 day weekend and if you have a Veteran in the family, or know a Vet, thank them for their service.