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Memorial Day: Remembering Those Who Died While Serving in America’s Armed Forces

By Jim Reed  |  May 25, 2023

This weekend, Americans pause to remember those who have given their lives while serving in the nation’s armed forces. Falling every year on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in all branches of the U.S. military—more than 1.1 million military personnel in all conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the war on terror.

Memorial Day honors those who have died in military service, while Veterans Day in November honors all veterans living and dead.

An NCSL analysis conducted after the 2020 elections identified at least 911 military veterans serving in the legislatures of the 50 states and five U.S. territories. These veterans make up about 12% of the nation’s 7,558 state lawmakers. Veterans serving in legislatures represent every branch of the military and the National Guard.

Honoring Veterans at Summit

At the Legislative Summit in Indianapolis this summer, NCSL will continue its tradition of saluting state legislators and legislative staff who have also served in the U.S. armed forces. A breakfast on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 7:45 a.m. for all military veterans, reservists and guard members attending the Summit will be followed by a tribute to veterans during the plenary session, then the inspirational story of Army Master Sgt. Cedric King. Veterans attending the breakfast will receive a custom NCSL commemorative coin. Upon registering on-site for the Summit, veterans and service members will receive a lapel pin honoring their service.

First celebrated as Decoration Day in the years after the Civil War, Memorial Day was designated a federal holiday in 1971. The day is observed with parades, flag displays and visits to veterans homes, cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance occurs at 3 p.m. local time, while 11 a.m. is designated as a moment for prayer and reflection. A long-standing tradition on public television—one that “unites the country in remembrance and appreciation of those who gave their lives for our nation”—is the National Memorial Day Concert, hosted by Emmy Award winner Gary Sinise and Tony Award winner Joe Mantegna.

Other countries around the world also observe a similar day of remembrance, including the United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, France, Turkey, Nigeria and Italy.

NCSL staff join their fellow citizens in honoring and remembering those who have died in service to the nation and recognizing the sacrifices made by the families who have lost loved ones over the years.

NCSL’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs enables state legislators and legislative staff to assist military service members and veterans in their states and work with nearby military installations on key issues. Contact NCSL to participate in this effort.

Jim Reed staffs NCSL’s Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs.

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