By Jason W. Stevens

Memorial Day takes place on May 25 this year.

Observed annually on the last Monday in May, the day is set aside to honor the men and women who have died in service to our country.

While Memorial Day didn’t become an official national holiday until 1971, its origins begin with the Civil War.

The quiz below, from the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, provides an opportunity for you to test your knowledge of the history of and customs associated with Memorial Day.

1. What was Memorial Day initially called?

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. (History)

2. In 1868, which former Union general issued an order that called for a national day of remembrance for those who died in the Civil War?

In May 1868, former Civil War General John A. Logan led a commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery, issuing a proclamation calling for "Decoration Day" to be observed each May 30 across the country. (National Geographic)

3. Historic documents point to an earlier day of remembrance, in 1865, when freed slaves, U.S. Colored Troops and local citizens organized a ceremony to honor Union troops who died near what city?

One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies Was Held by Freed Slaves. At the close of the Civil War, freed slaves in Charleston honored fallen Union soldiers. (History)

4. Other cities also claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1966, Congress declared which city as the official birthplace?

Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. (

5. Which of the following Memorial Day activities have been codified into law?

In recognition of those Americans whom we honor today, the Congress, by joint resolution of May 11, 1950 (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and a period during such day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. (Reagan Library) --- The National Moment of Remembrance is an annual event that asks Americans, wherever they are at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause for a duration of one minute to remember those who have died in military service to the United States. (Wikipedia) --- On Memorial Day, the flag should be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, and then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation's battle heroes. (

6. The poppy is a Memorial Day and Veterans Day symbol of remembrance and is often worn on one’s clothing. Which of the following humanitarians is referred to as “The Poppy Lady” for her role in creating the tradition?

Moina Belle Michael (August 15, 1869 – May 10, 1944) was an American professor and humanitarian who conceived the idea of using poppies as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in World War I. (Wikipedia)

7. Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 until this year, when the federal government designated that the holiday must be held on the third Monday in May?

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday. (History)

8. Which well-known national monument was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1922?

On May 30, 1922, a large crowd gathered for the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “Here is a shrine at which all can worship,” Memorial Chairman William Howard Taft told the crowd. (WTTW Chicago)

9. Which U.S. senator and veteran campaigned for 25 years, until his death in 2012, to have Memorial Day changed back to its original date of May 30?

For more than 20 years, their cause was championed by Hawaiian Senator—and decorated World War II veteran—Daniel Inouye, who until his 2012 death reintroduced legislation in support of the change at the start of every Congressional term. (History)

10. Between 1988 and 2019, a veterans group staged a Memorial Day motorcycle rally in the nation’s capital to draw attention to Vietnam-era service personnel missing in action or prisoners of war. What was the name of the group?

For the last 32 years, the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day ride has drawn ever-larger crowds to the streets of Washington, D.C. (Military Times)

Answers: 1-B, 2-A, 3-D, 4-C, 5-D, 6-A, 7-C, 8-C, 9-B, 10-D

About the Author 

Jason W. Stevens is director of teacher programs at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio, and editor of Ashbrook’s “Causes of the Civil War: Core Documents.” He wrote this for

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