Relatives and others traditionally place flags near veterans' headstones on Memorial Day. A United States federal holiday, Memorial Day takes place on May 30th and is observed on the last Monday of May. It was formerly known as 'Decoration Day'. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who died in military service for their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Today, some Americans apparently use Memorial Day weekend to also honor family members who have passed away. Church services on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day may include a reading of the names of members who have died during the previous 12 months.
Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A National Moment of Remembrance takes place at 3 PM. Another tradition is to fly the U.S. Flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also a time for picnics, family gatherings, and sporting events. One of the longest standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been held in conjuction with Memorial Day since 1911.
Memorial Day traditionally occurs on May 30, and some, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), advocate returning to this fixed date. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." Hawaii's Senator Inoye has repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional day since 1999. However, at least some Americans enjoy the guaranteed three-day weekend that comes with observing the holiday on a Monday. Americans popularly view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer, while they view Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season.