Fact Finders: Things to know about Memorial Day in Arizona

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 3:40 PM MST|Updated: May. 29, 2023 at 5:38 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Few of us know about the origins of Memorial Day and the sacrifice of Arizonans we honor on this day.

The roots of Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day,” are in our nation’s deadliest conflict: the Civil War. There is some debate over the very first commemoration, but a Yale historian traced it to a ceremony in 1865, organized by freed slaves and missionaries in South Carolina to give unidentified prisoners of war a proper burial. In 1971, it became a federal holiday to be marked on the last Monday in May.

While many people celebrate with an extra day off and a cookout, Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died serving in the U.S. Military. Officially, it’s marked by a moment of silence across the nation at 3 pm.

Here in Arizona, we’ve lost at least 3,000 people across 100 years of war. About two-thirds of them died fighting in World War II, 619 in Vietnam, almost 250 in Korea, and five in the Persian Gulf War. Most recently, nearly 200 have been lost in 20 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Research Service. Here in Tucson, the USS Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona is a year-round reminder of the more than 2400 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor.