Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 by General John Logan (then the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic) and was originally called Decoration Day. The holiday was first observed on May 30th, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873, and by 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. Southern states chose to honor their Civil War dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans in any war. Some Southern states still have a special day set aside for honoring Confederate soldiers.
Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic. -- General Logan - May 5, 1868
Time magazine has an excellent article here about the history of Memorial Day.
| Citizens of Springfield, Vt and veterans of the Civil War gather in town to celebrate Memorial Day c. 1900 - Source|
| Veterans of the Civil War march in a Memorial Day parade in Springfield, Vt c. 1900 - Source|
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. It is a day to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. By all means enjoy your day off from work, spend time with friends and family, but as you go about your day please take a moment and say thank you to a veteran or active service member.