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Americans Celebrate Memorial Day


Each year before Memorial Day weekend the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund places a flag on Boston Common to represent each fallen member of the U.S. military from Massachusetts since the Revolutionary War to the present day. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Americans Celebrate Memorial Day
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Memorial Day is a national holiday observed in the United States on the last Monday in May. This year, Memorial Day falls on May 30.

It is a day when Americans honor the men and women who have died fighting in America’s wars. For most Americans, it also marks the unofficial start of summer. It is a popular weekend for vacationing.

Even with rising gas prices, the American Automobile Association expects as many as 39 million Americans to travel this year for Memorial Day weekend. Many will head to the nearest bodies of water or beaches.

In the American state of Delaware, people often call the beach town of Rehoboth “The Nation’s Summer Capital.” Many people who live in Washington, D.C., the nation’s actual capital, spend time along their beaches. The town also happens to be a favorite summer getaway spot for U.S. President Joe Biden, who is from Delaware.

This week, officials in Rehoboth and the nearby towns of Lewes, Dewey, and Bethany have had to do a lot to help repair the summer capital and prepare for visitors. Just days before Memorial Day, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, DNREC, was still working to repair beaches that were damaged by strong storms in early May.

Secretary Shawn M. Garvin of the DNREC said, “We’re working on making the state’s beaches accessible and in shape for the summer.”

FILE - The beach and boardwalk are seen, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
FILE - The beach and boardwalk are seen, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Memorial Day tradition

Back in the nation’s capital, Memorial Day traditions include the observance at Arlington National Cemetery. It is the most famous burial place in America. Before the pandemic, more than 4 million people visited the cemetery every year.

The tradition began on May 30th, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in the cemetery. It was called Decoration Day back then.

Since 1948, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry, The Old Guard, have placed small American flags in front of every headstone in the cemetery.

Lines of simple white headstones mark the soldiers' graves. But the 80-hectare cemetery also serves as a burial place for people of national and historical importance.

Two presidents are buried there: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. Other well-known people buried at the cemetery include world champion boxer Joe Louis, North Pole explorer Robert E. Peary and the seven astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

Nearly 4,000 former slaves are also buried at Arlington National Cemetery. One of them is James Parks. He dug the first graves in the cemetery.

FILE - Members of the Old Guard, with the Washington Memorial in the back, place flags in front of every headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Thursday, May 26, 2016. Soldiers were to place nearly a quarter of a million U.S. flags at the cemetery as part of a Memorial Day tradition. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
FILE - Members of the Old Guard, with the Washington Memorial in the back, place flags in front of every headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Thursday, May 26, 2016. Soldiers were to place nearly a quarter of a million U.S. flags at the cemetery as part of a Memorial Day tradition. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Other well-known memorials

The best-known memorial in the nation’s capital, however, is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which opened in 1982.

In 1980, a group of former soldiers announced a competition to design a memorial. The winner was Maya Lin, a 21-year-old student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Lin designed a memorial formed by two walls of black stone about 76 meters long. The walls meet to form a V. The names of more than 58,000 Americans killed or declared missing-in-action are cut into the stone.

Almost any time of day, you can see people looking for the name of a family member or friend who died in the war. Once they find the name, many rub a pencil on paper over the letters to copy it.

Many people leave remembrances at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

FILE - A visitor pauses at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington early in the morning on Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 to look at the names inscribed on the wall. The Washington Monument is at right. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
FILE - A visitor pauses at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington early in the morning on Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 to look at the names inscribed on the wall. The Washington Monument is at right. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

After the success of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Congress approved a memorial to the Korean War veterans which opened in July of 1995. The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953. The memorial honors those who died. It also honors those who survived.

One of the lesser-known memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is often called "the temple." The round stone structure honors people from the District of Columbia who died in World War I. The war was fought from 1914 to 1918.

Between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument on the National Mall is the World War II Memorial. The U.S. entered the war after Japan bombed the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941.

Sixteen million men and women served in the American military between 1941 and 1945. More than 400,000 died.

FILE - Traffic passes the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
FILE - Traffic passes the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The World War II Memorial is built of bronze and granite. In the center, at ground level, is a round pool of water. When the sun is just right, rainbows of color dance in the air. Fifty-six stone pillars rise around the pool. They represent each of the American states and territories, plus the District of Columbia, at the time of the war.

There are not yet memorials for soldiers who died in America’s most recent wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers are buried in Section 60 of Arlington Cemetery. The section is often called “the saddest place in America.”

On Memorial Day, Americans will stop for one minute at three o'clock local time for the National Moment of Remembrance to honor the soldiers who have died in service to the country, no matter what wars they served in.

I’m Ashley Thompson. And I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Shelley Gollust, Jerilyn Watson, Christopher Jones-Cruise, and Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

getaway - n. a short vacation

cemetery - n. a place where dead people are buried

decoration - n. a medal or award

champion - n. someone that has won a contest in sports

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