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Observed on the last Monday of May, our modern Memorial Day has its roots in two wars. In the late 19th century, "Decoration Day" honored the Civil War dead. After World War I, the holiday expanded to honor all citizens who died in service to the U.S. (though it would not become an official national holiday until 1971).
Ready to learn more about Memorial Day? Visit our Memorial Day spotlight page for teaching strategies, quizzes, website reviews, videos, and more on the history of the holiday. Listen to a presentation on dog tags, discover high school teacher James Percoco’s techniques for engaging students with monuments and memorials, or test your knowledge of the 54th Massachusetts, the Civil War regiment made famous in the film Glory.
Other organizations also offer rich Memorial Day resources. Try visiting:
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for the history of Memorial Day and associated traditions.
- The Library of Congress for primary sources, including 19th- and early 20th-century newspaper articles on the holiday.
- The Smithsonian National Museum of American History for online exhibits on military history and the diary of a Civil War nurse.
- The National Park Service for information on historic battlefields, cemeteries, monuments and memorials, and other sites related to military history. Check out lesson plans on teaching with historic places, too.
- The White House for presidential proclamations from past Memorial Days.
- EDSITEment for lesson plans on U.S. military history (click "War and Foreign Policy" under "Themes"), including a lesson on the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for a special issue of History Now, "Perspectives on America’s Wars," and essays and primary sources related to Memorial Day.
- PBS for video clips related to Memorial Day and military history, including on spouses and parents of fallen soldiers.
- HISTORY.com for related videos and speeches and three interactives commemorating the Civil War and World War II.
For more information
Explore all of our spotlight pages for holiday and heritage teaching materials. Spotlight pages are available all year, and constantly updated!