The first nationwide Memorial Day parade was held on May 30, 1868 by a group of Civil War Union Army Vets. They were known as “Grand Army of the Republic”. Why they chose May 30, no one knows. It had no real significance. Rumor has it that it did coincide with May 26, 1865, which was the date of the surrender of the last Confederate army. Because of this, the southern states got a bit offended and felt that Memorial Day was to honor only the North (or Union’s) Civil War dead. So, in 1891, Florida designated the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis as Confederate Memorial Day.
Then 9 other states followed, each coming up with their own date for Memorial Day. These ranged from April 26 (the anniversary of the surrender of General George Johnson at Durham Station, NC) to June 3, Jefferson Davis’ birthday.
So, after WWI, the American Legion took over the task of trying to create some uniformity to Memorial Day. It was the American Legion organization that officially gave the patriotic observance its official name of “Memorial Day.” And it was to honor American service people (men and women) from ALL wars or conflicts.
Memorial Day is now celebrated by 49 of the 50 states on the set date by the American Legion. Which state doesn’t honor it? Alabama is the only state that chooses to celebrate their Confederate Memorial Day on the 4th Monday in April.
Today the celebration of Memorial Day is marked by both religious services and patriotic parades. Nationally, for the nation as a whole, it is celebrated by having a wreath placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. This can be done by the President, Vice President or whomever the President chooses to replace him.