What Memorial Day means to Americans

Memorial Day honors America’s military men and women who lost their lives in service to their country.

The holiday is observed on the last Monday of May, a time of year when weather is turning warmer and schools and universities are adjourning for summer break. To Americans, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Many people attend parades, go to the beach or have cook-outs with friends and family.

But at its heart, Memorial Day is a day when Americans reflect on the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in military service.

These images show scenes of Americans across the country observing Memorial Day.


Participants in parade dressed in colonial gear (© Images-USA/Alamy)
(© Images-USA/Alamy)

Marchers in Revolutionary War–era soldiers’ uniforms at a Memorial Day parade in Sarasota, Florida, honor those who fought and died in the establishment of the United States.


Boots and memorabilia in front of black memorial with names inscribed (© Cliff Owen/AP Images)
(© Cliff Owen/AP Images)

Military boots left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the black granite walls of which list the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War.


U.S. Marines standing in front of LED American flag (© Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(© Mario Tama/Getty Images)

U.S. Marines look on in front of a lighted American flag in New York’s Times Square during Fleet Week festivities. Fleet Week, which has been held in New York City since 1984, celebrates the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps with a week of ship visitations and military demonstrations. Fleet Week concludes on Memorial Day with a military flyover to honor those killed while serving in the armed forces.


Family at picnic table near cemetery (© Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)
(© Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)

A family has a Memorial Day picnic outside Vicksburg National Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The cemetery has the largest number of Civil War interments of any national cemetery in the United States.


Soldier placing flag at tombstone in cemetery (© Cliff Owen/AP Images)
(© Cliff Owen/AP Images)

A member of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, a unit known as the Old Guard, places a flag at the headstone of a fallen military member during the unit’s annual Memorial Day “Flags In” ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.


Beach scene with Ferris wheel (© John Minchillo/AP Images)
(© John Minchillo/AP Images)

Visitors enjoy the beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, over the Memorial Day weekend. The American Automobile Association predicts that 43 million Americans will travel on the holiday weekend in 2019.


Two people riding motorcycle flying American flag (© Molly Riley/AP Images)
(© Molly Riley/AP Images)

Riders participate in the Rolling Thunder “Ride for Freedom” motorcycle rally in Washington on Memorial Day. First held in 1988, the Ride for Freedom will have its 32nd and final run in 2019. Rolling Thunder, a U.S. advocacy group, seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing-in-action (POW/MIA) military members.