18 Things You Don’t Know About Memorial Day (But Should)

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6. Freed slaves held the first ceremony

Freed slaves are believed to have held the first event commemorating war dead from the Civil War. Yale University historian David W. Blight said African-Americans held commemorations in the spring of 1865, after Union Army soldiers captured Charleston, South Carolina. Blight said the largest of these commemoration events occurred on May 1, at a racecourse and jockey club in Charleston that was used to house Union prisoners who had died from disease. The bodies were exhumed and given proper burials. The freed slaves held a procession, with people carrying baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses, and singing patriotic songs.

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7. Memorial Day started honoring all veterans after World War I

Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, was begun to honor those who died during the Civil War. But once the United States entered World War I, the holiday was broadened to commemorate American soldiers who died in all wars.

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8. “Taps” was actually a goodnight song

The familiar, mournful strains of the solitary bugler were first played during a burial ceremony for a fallen Civil War soldier in 1862. Both the Union and Confederate armies performed the song at funerals, and it has become a tradition to play it at military funerals and at ceremonies acknowledging the unknown soldier on Memorial Day. The song, whose composer is not known, is also used to signal lights out for those serving in the military.

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9. You’re supposed to fly the flag at half-staff until 12 p.m.

On Memorial Day the American flag should be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then it is to be raised to the top of the pole until sunset, to honor the nation’s war heroes.

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10. You are supposed to pause for a minute of silence at 3 p.m.

The humanitarian organization “No Greater Love” conceived the idea of a “National Moment of Remembrance” to remind people of the real reason we observe Memorial Day. Americans are asked to maintain a minute of silence at 3 p.m. local time to honor those who died for our country. President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Silence Act into law in 2000.