Memorial Day is a US holiday held on the last Monday of May each year. This year it will be held on Monday 25th May 2009.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates the men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country. It is believed to date from reunification after the American Civil War, honouring soldiers killed in that conflict. The celebration was  expanded after WW1 to cover American casualities in any military action. Decoration Day is still celebrated in the Southern USA on the Sunday before Memorial Day when families decorate the graves of family members and is not reserved for those in the Military.

Traditionally, the weekend, apart from remembrance, now includes concerts, spectacular parades and often sporting events. The famous Indianapolis 500 Race has been held on this day since 1911.

In this article we felt it appropriate to feature the great events held in Washington DC, the Nation’s Capital, marking the start of summer.

The NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT will be held on the West Lawn of the Capitol Buildingat 8 pm on Sunday, 24th May. Actors and guest artists appear in this free concert with The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erich Kunzel. The grounds of the impressive 19th Century building were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who also designed Central Park and the National Zoo.


On Sunday, 24th May, at noon, about 400,000 riders  will ride across Washington and congregate at The Reflecting Pool for speeches and a musical tribute to POW’S and those still mising in action. Formed in 1988 as a protest group by Veterans of The Vietnam War it now promotes veteran’s legislation and resolution of POW and MIA issues.

On Sunday, 24th May, prior to the rally, Rolling Thunder will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at The Navy Memorial. The Memorial is an outdoor piazza featuring a Granite Sea Map, surrounded by pools, flagpoles, fountains and sculptured panels depicting the achievements of the US Navy.


Later on Sunday, 24th May, the park kicks off the summer season with a free performance by the US Marine Corps Band followed by spectacular fireworks.


The highlight of the weekend is the Memorial Day Parade which starts at 2 pm on Monday 25th, May. This parade of marching bands and flag waving groups proceeds alongConstitution Avenue and past The White House, ending at 17th Street. Veteran’s Groups from all States are represented, together with spectacular patriotic floats. The Parade is sponsored by The WW2 Veteran’s Committee. Prior to the Parade at 1pm  the Navy Band Concert Band will perform at the Navy Memorial at 1 p.m.


At 9 am and 1 pm respectively, wreath laying ceremonies will take place at The Air Force Memorial and at Arlington National Cemetery. At Arlington, a concert at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier will follow the ceremony.

The Air Force Memorial was dedicated in 2006. Its design symbolizes flight with three stainless steel spires of 270 feet, representing contrails.

Arlington National cemetery serves as a cemetery and memorial to America’s War heroes and sees more than 4 million visitors a year.


This year’s ceremony at 1 pm on Monday 25th, includes a Presentation of Colours, wreath-laying and remarks by a special guest. This memorial is a black, granite wall inscribed with the names of the 58,209 killed in The Vietnam War. Near the wall is a life-size statue depicting three young servicemen and another sculpture of two nurses tending the wounds of a male soldier with a third female kneeling nearby.


Finally, on the Monday, The Memorial Day Jazz Festival features big band, swing and jazz music from 1-7 pm.. Take along your picnic or if you prefer there will be food and drinks  on sale.

Washington is a city of impressive  memorials and monuments. Before leaving, visit some of these which have both military and civil remembrance.