Decoration Day — where people laid flowers at the graves of soldiers — was established three years after the end of the Civil War by Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Union soldiers. That day evolved to become Memorial Day, which was declared by Congress in 1971.
Presidents typically commemorate the day with a speech of remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery. Here are ten inspiring presidential quotes meant to honor the holiday and those who died serving the country:
Ten Inspirational Memorial Day Quotes from Presidents
James Garfield, who would become the 20th president of the U.S., speaking as an Ohio Congressman at Arlington National Cemetery on May 20, 1868:
For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.
Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the U.S., speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1914:
Therefore this peculiar thing comes about, that we can stand here and praise the memory of these soldiers in the interest of peace. They set us the example of self-sacrifice, which if followed in peace will make it unnecessary that men should follow war any more.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the U.S., speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1925:
These who are represented here were men in whom courage had reached a high moral quality. They had been brave enough not to shrink from looking at facts and institutions. They had been honest enough to admit that they saw there much that was not good. They glossed over no wrongs, they hid away no skeletons. They did not pretend that wrong was right or ever could be right. They had put much thought to the lessons of hard experience, and had frankly acknowledged that they must deal with a crisis in the nation’s life.
Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the U.S., speaking at Valley Forge Park on May 30, 1931:
It was with the transcendent fortitude and steadfastness of these men who in adversity and in suffering through the darkest hour of our history held faithful to an ideal. Here men endured that a nation might live.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the U.S., giving his Gettysburg Address on May 30, 1934:
On these hills of Gettysburg two brave armies of Americans once met in combat. Not far from here, in a valley likewise consecrated to American valor, a ragged Continental Army survived a bitter winter to keep alive the expiring hope of a new Nation…Surely, all this is holy ground.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the U.S., delivering his proclamation of peace declaring May 30 Memorial Day on May 27, 1954:
May thirtieth has long been a day of public memorial, dedicated to paying homage to our friends and relatives who gave their lives in war for their country and for the cause of peace; and whereas in memory of their sacrifices in this noble cause, we should keep faith with our heroic dead by humbly and devoutly supplicating Almighty God for guidance in our efforts to achieve a peaceful world.
Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the U.S., speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1966:
Peace does not come just because we wish for it. Peace must be fought for. It must be built stone by stone.
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the U.S., speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on May 31, 1982:
…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.
Barack Obama, the 44th president of the U.S., speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2009:
“They, and we, are the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor, who waged war so that we might know peace, who braved hardship so that we might know opportunity, who paid the ultimate price so that we might know freedom.”
Donald Trump, the 45th president of the U.S., speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on May 28, 2018:
To every family member of the fallen, I want you to know that the legacy of those you lost does not fade with time, but grows only more powerful. Their legacy does not, like a voice in the distance, become a faint echo. But, instead, their legacy grows deeper, spreading further, touching more lives, reaching down through time and out across many generations.