Current federal law designates Memorial Day as the last Monday in May — in 2008 that’s today, May 26th. It was officially proclaimed as Decoration Day on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states, but the South did not observe Decoration Day, preferring to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and soldiers who had died in other wars were also honored.
140 years later, Memorial Day is still celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave and a wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But today, there other, less historic, ways to pay your respects; there are picnics, parades and fireworks — or you can skin your phone with an American flag.