Memorial Day is an American holiday dedicated to those who have died while in the armed forces. Its equivalent is Remembrance Day on November 11th. The United States uses November 11th to honor those who survived their service to the country. Memorial Day is for the dead.
Memorial Day has its genesis from several sources. The primary one was General Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic who called for a day where all Union dead would be honored. May 30th was chosen because it was not an anniversary of a major battle. At first the day was known as "Decoration Day" because graves would be decorated.
Memorial Day slowly became more and more popular in the northern states. The South; however, was much less enthusiastic about honoring those who died bringing the southern states back into the Union. Some of the states had their own Confederate Memorial Day. The tradition for this began before the end of the Civil War. War widows would gather in small groups and go around decorating the graves of the fallen soldiers. It was only until World War I when Memorial Day became a truly national holiday. Men from all over the country died in one of the shortest and bloodiest American wars.
In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of May. Veteran and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) has led a decade long effort to return Memorial Day to May 30th.
Recently Memorial Day is being used to honor all dead, both military and civilian. In the South, Decoration Day is an unofficial holiday which is on the day before Memorial Day. Decoration Day is the day when dead family members (military and non-military) are remembered.