Every grieving generation remembers the casualties of war in its own way. So, Memorial Day, the day when we remember the men and women who died in war, has evolved. The beginning of the holiday is usually set in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established a Memorial Day to decorate the graves of the Union war dead.
Throughout the Civil War, families and groups remembered fallen soldiers on many dates and in many places. North and South generally had different traditions for remembrance. Gradually, the traditions came together and by 1968, Congress designated the date as the last Monday in May.
The Civil War posed new problems for the young republic of America. More than 600,000 soldiers (some say 750,000) died in the conflict, representing 2 percent of the population. (By comparison, U.S. losses in World War II were just over 400,000.) Once national cemeteries were established, the tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers began in earnest.
Today, veteran's groups, individuals and churches decorate graves with flags on Memorial Day, continuing the tradition of honoring the fallen. Graves and clothing are also frequently decorated with poppies, a symbol of sacrifice that became popular after World War I. It is said that for every drop of blood shed in war a poppy grows in remembrance.