12 Heartwarming Memorial Day Ceremonies

Since the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day has been a time for Americans to honor soldiers who gave their lives fighting for freedoms. All around the country, Americans mark Memorial Day weekend in myriad meaningful ways.

By Daryl Chen
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    The oldest fife-and-drum corps

    The Mattatuck Drum Band, shown here marching at the 2013 Waterbury, CT, Memorial Day Parade, is a piece of living American history—the band was organized in 1767! Over the years, they helped "drum up" support and encourage enlistment for the War of 1812; paraded during Abraham Lincoln's Presidential campaign; played "Hail to the Chief" after the Civil War for General Ulysses Grant (who remarked, "Well boys I never heard such a hell of a racket from so few drums in my life"); and performed at the inaugural parade for John F. Kennedy, Jr.

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    A national march gets broadcast worldwide

    Appropriately, D.C.'s National Memorial Day Parade is the largest event in the U.S. commemorating the holiday, and it's been televised and broadcast live to troops stationed worldwide since 2008. (The Parade itself was started three years earlier by the American Veterans Center.) With part of the route going past the White House, the parade features floats honoring service members from the American Revolution to the present day. Shown here is the Iwo Jima Memorial reenactment from 2008.

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    Paying tribute at veterans' graves

    Every year, the town of Moore, OK, honors its deceased veterans by beautifying their graves. In May 2013, a destructive tornado ripped through the area the week before the holiday, and it looked doubtful whether people would be able to take care of the cemetery with so many residents tending to their homes and businesses. Through calls and social media, however, nearly 600 people showed up to help, and organizers estimated that more than 1,000 ended up contributing time and labor to making sure the cemetery was ready for Memorial Day. Here, one of the 2013 volunteers, a Cub Scout, places flags.

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    A ritual during America's pasttime

    The Boston Red Sox traditionally play during Memorial Day weekend, and they always try in some way at the games to honor the troops who died. In 2013, a huge American flag was unfurled during the singing of the National Anthem, while airmen from nearby Hanscom Air Force Base saluted.

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    A global prayer for all

    The International Security Assistance Forces-Joint Command is made up of American troops and their counterparts from the coalition countries (Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Mongolia, and others). On Memorial Day, this globe-encompassing group gathers at the Kabul Airport to honor the service members who died. Here, a moment of prayer from the 2013 ceremony. 

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    The ship used in combat in WWII and Vietnam

    The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum isn't housed in just any old building—it inhabits the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, a ship used in combat in World War II and the Vietnam War and in peacetime as a recovery craft for the Mercury and Gemini space missions in the 1950s and 1960s. For its annual Memorial Day ceremony, a 100-foot Stars and Stripes is unfurled (shown here in 2013), wreaths are laid, a 3-volley rifle salute occurs, and taps are played. Fun fact: On the weekend before Memorial Day, the Intrepid has another proud tradition: A free screening on the flight deck of Top Gun.

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    The largest parade in the state

    Fairfield, CT, has had a Memorial Day Parade since 1936, and it's said to be the largest such parade in the state. Local groups, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, veterans and military groups, the Shriners, and businesses and schools take part next to marching bands and dance groups. Afterwards, the town celebrates with another beloved local tradition: a community picnic with free food and games. In the photo shown here, WWII veteran Edward Sabo, who served in the Navy, rides on a float in the 2012 parade.

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    Over a quarter of a million flags at Arlington

    Since 1948, a special tradition called Flags In has taken place right before Memorial Day weekend at both Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemetery. Every available soldier in the 3rd U.S. Infantry (also known as the Old Guard) participates by placing American flags at each grave marker. The enormous task—at Arlington alone, there are more than 260,000 gravestones and 7,300 niches—occurs in a speedy three hours and with military precision—each flag is centered and placed one foot in front of each grave marker. This photo was taken in 2013.

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    The most patriotic procession

    Maryland's Fort Meade has been holding a Memorial Day weekend Massing of the Colors ceremony since 1986. An event performed throughout the U.S. to offer respect to the American flag and to American service members, the Massing of the Colors at Fort Meade showcases a procession filled with dozens of color guards (the detachment of soldiers that carries and protects its regiment's colors, or flags and banners) of active, reserve and National Guard military units; veteran, civic, and patriotic groups; ROTC units; state militias; first responders; and Scout organizations. This is seen as one of the most patriotic Memorial Day events occurring in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area. As part of the program, the Army Field Band (the most elite U.S. Army musical group) and the Soldiers' Chorus also perform. This photo is from the 2012 ceremony.

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    A link to history and service

    The 45th Infantry Division Museum is devoted to preserving the history and artifacts of this major formation of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, which was active from 1920-1945 and 1946-1968. Over their years of service, the Division was awarded nine Medals of Honor, 12 campaign streamers, the Croix de Guerre, and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. A Memorial Day ceremony is one of the museum's two major annual events (the other is Veterans Day). The program includes a Massing of the Colors, a helicopter flyover, a firing of the World War II-era Hotchkiss Cannon, a display of historic military vehicles and aircraft and service members dressed in period uniforms, and a laying of a wreath at the museum's flagpole to honor fallen troops. In this photo is Preston Wiloby, president of the 45th Infantry Division Museum, in 2013.

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    Commemorating through history

    The Louisiana House hosts its own special ceremony every Memorial Day. After lawmakers honor those killed in the line of the duty in the past year, the colors are posted in the House Chamber by the 1st Battalion, the 141st Artillery Battalion, and the Color Guard of the Louisiana Army National Guard (the latter are dressed in 19th century uniforms in this photo from 2013). Then the event moves outdoors to the garden in front of the grave and statue of Huey Long (Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator), where a Howitzer cannon is fired 21 times for the fallen, followed by the playing of taps.

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    Early morning tributes

    More than 24,000 service members representing every branch of the military are buried here, and every year on the Saturday before Memorial Day, a large group of early-rising volunteers—airmen from Nellis Air Force Base (one of them shown here in 2013), veterans, area businesspeople, schoolchildren, and others—arrives at 7 A.M. to place flags on each grave. On Memorial Day, local motorcycle clubs pay their respects, with hundreds of cyclists riding in a procession from the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam to the cemetery, and residents with flags gather on roads to cheer them on. An official ceremony is held, which includes music; speeches; a prayer; recognition of veterans, Blue Star Mothers, and Gold Star Parents; wreath laying; retiring of the colors; a 21-gun salute; and the playing of taps. Afterwards, the Boulder City Veterans' Pilot Group does a flyover of the cemetery. As soon as the event ends on Monday, the flags are swiftly collected from the graves, rolled, and put away until May rolls around again.

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