Memorial Day, initially referred to as Decoration Day, was observed by many communities after the Civil War, when the nation suffered more than 620,000 military deaths, roughly 2 percent of the total population at the time. John A. Logan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of Republic, chose May 30, 1868, as a day to decorate the graves of Union troops across the nation. From this beginning, Memorial Day is now designated as an annual day of remembrance to honor all those who have died in service to the United States during peace and war. Veterans Day, November 11, celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting Memorial Day and honoring those who have served in all branches of the United States military. The Archives Catalog contains records relating to this holiday and to military service as well as photographs of Presidential wreath-laying ceremonies.