Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd / The graves of eight of Andrews Raiders, arranged in a semicircle, lie under a misty sky in Chattanooga's National Cemetery. James J. Andrews was a civilian spy who proposed a scheme to destroy the railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga during the Civil War.

It's the unofficial start of summer, but what else do you know about Memorial Day? Here's a quick reminder of what the holiday is all about and a few ways to mark the day (but not "celebrate" it).


1. Civil War origins

According to, the earliest observances of what became known as Memorial Day followed the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and necessitated the establishment of the country's first national cemeteries. The war ended in the spring of 1865, prompting Americans in the years that followed to hold springtime tributes to the fallen soldiers, including decorating their graves with flowers.

On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn't the anniversary of any particular battle. Eventually, the remembrance evolved to commemorate military personnel who died in any war. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. The change went into effect in 1971.

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Union Army Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, as seen in an undated 19th-century photo, is known as the "Father of Memorial Day. In 1868 he proclaimed: "The 30th day of May is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country …" to honor the nearly 500,000 lives lost in the U.S. Civil War. First known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day expanded to an observance honoring all U.S. war dead after World War I and in 1971 was made an official national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May. / File Photo from New York Public Library via AP


2. Local observances

Officials in Chattanooga, Collegedale and East Ridge will host Memorial Day programs Monday.

The Chattanooga Area Veterans Council will host a ceremony at 11 a.m. at the National Guard Armory, 1801 S. Holtzclaw Ave. You can RSVP at

In Collegedale, a life-size bronze sculpture of a female Army nurse created by artist Greg Johnson will be unveiled at 4 p.m., rain or shine, at Veterans Memorial Park, 9318 Apison Pike. Guests may wish to bring seating for the ceremony, which will include remarks by military and political leaders and music by the East Tennessee Symphony Orchestra Brass Ensemble. For more information, call Mathew Miller, director of public relations for the park, at 423-580-4999.

The annual East Ridge Memorial Day ceremony will start at 1 p.m. near the playground at Pioneer Frontier Park, 1509 Tombras Ave. The event is spearheaded by American Legion Post 95, Crestwood Garden Club and city personnel. 


3. Moment of remembrance

Since 2000, Americans have been asked to join in a National Moment of Remembrance to honor those who have died in military service to the United States. To participate, pause whatever you're doing for one minute at 3 p.m. local time.

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Contributed File Photo / A group of Chattanooga-area veterans meeting for lunch at Mission BBQ stand for the singing of the national anthem, which happens every day at noon.


4. Musical commemoration

Voci Virili Men's Consort, a 20-member semiprofessional male vocal ensemble, received an ArtsBuild grant for a live performance of "Lost Sons: Songs of Death on the Battlefield." COVID-19 scrapped those plans, so the Chattanooga-based ensemble, founded and led by artistic director Harv Wileman, has made the performance available as a video.

The middle song in the triptych is local composer Ethan McGrath's setting of President Abraham Lincoln's moving letter to Lydia Parker Bixby, who lost five sons fighting for the Union. This marks the first recording of the setting, which is part of McGrath's larger work "A Just and Lasting Peace." His piece is bookended by a setting of the World War I poem "In Flanders Fields" and "Tell My Father" from the Broadway show "The Civil War." To see the video, visit and search for Voci Virili Lost Sons.


5. Thank-you meals

Several restaurants honor veterans and active-duty military personnel with free meals on military holidays. Local participation and discounts may vary, but try these chains: Carrabba's Italian Grill, Chuck E. Cheese, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Hooters, Jimmy John's, Mission BBQ and Outback Steakhouse.

Contact Lisa Denton at or 423-757-6281.