For many Americans, Memorial Day is the most solemn and significant flag holiday of the year: a time to remember the extraordinary sacrifice by our nation's soldiers. We honor their deaths each year, so their legacy lives on, and that we may continue to pay tribute to their memory in how we live each day. When we raise the flag to half-staff on Memorial Day, we do so with this intention, because as the U.S. code states, "The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing."

Here are 6 ways to observe Memorial Day and remember our fallen heroes:

1. Decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers and flags 

Plant red poppies by grave marker flags for memorial day flags usa

Decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags was the very first Memorial Day (originally called “Decoration Day”) tradition — for over a century before the day became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Consider pairing your grave marker flags with red poppies. Since 1920, the red poppy has come to symbolize the blood shed in battle by fallen soldiers, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae: 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

2. Wear a red poppy on National Poppy Day

National poppy day observed the friday before memorial day flags usa

The Friday before Memorial Day is designated by the American Legion Family as National Poppy Day. Wear a red poppy to honor and remember those who served and died for our country. The American Legion has a toolkit of resources to help you honor the day with your entire family, including coloring books, banners, posters, pins, and ideas for supporting military families. 

3. Fly your flag at half-staff on Memorial Day

Memorial day is a half staff flag holiday flags usa

Memorial Day is a flag holiday. Fly your American flag at half-staff from sunrise until noon, then briskly raise the flag to full-staff until sundown. If you have a house-mounted flagpole that can't be lowered to half-staff, you can affix a black ribbon, also known as a mourning streamer, to your flag instead. Memorial Day is the only half-staff flag holiday where the flag is lowered to half-staff to honor the dead until mid-day, when it is raised to full-staff by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

4. Observe the National Moment of Remembrance

Remember fallen soldiers on memorial day

The National Moment of Remembrance takes place at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day. At this time, pause for one minute of silence, reflection, and remembrance of the many soldiers who have died in military service. 

5. Support Gold Star families 

Support gold star families on memorial day flags usa

Gold Star Families are the spouses, children, and loved ones of our fallen military heroes. We honor Gold Star Spouses Day on April 5 each year and Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day on the last Sunday in September. Memorial Day is also an important time to think about ways to support survivor families — and help them commemorate their fallen loved ones. The America’s Gold Star Families organization supports survivors with programs and services that include scholarships, birthday cards, and fallen hero ornaments. Learn more about their work here. 

6. Recognize and remember a war hero 

Honor the unknown soldier on memorial day flags usa

Spend some time honoring our nation’s soldiers, both collectively and individually. If your family has lost a service member, reserve a moment in your day to reflect on old photographs and share your favorite stories, remembering how they lived as you honor how they died. This can be a special time to include children and grandchildren in Memorial Day traditions, passing down treasured memories so they may connect with fallen family.

If your family has not lost a service member, take time to learn about a fallen hero. Visit your local library and check out a book to read; include your family and learn about the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes together. The American Writers Museum recommends this Memorial Day Reading List. 

This Memorial Day, we honor and remember the sacrifices of those fighting for our nation because we believe that: 

“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” - Unknown 

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