Memorial Day Around The World

raising the flag at Iwo Jima
The United States definitely has its share of patriotic holidays.  Not a bad thing, as we all are reminded of the freedoms we enjoy - and sometimes take for granted.  Often defined by backyard barbecues with family and friends, these holidays are intended for us to pay well-deserved respect to those who sacrificed so selflessly to protect those freedoms.  American patriotic holidays include Memorial Day, Flag Day (June 14), followed by Independence Day on July 4th.  We recognize the signing of the U.S Constitution on Constitution Day (September 17), and we honor all veterans who have served in our armed forces on Veterans Day (November 11).
Decoration Day May 1899Here in the U.S., Memorial Day originated near the end of the Civil War.  Once called “Decoration Day,” it was a time to honor the estimated 620,000 soldiers who died in that conflict – still by far our nation’s costliest war in terms of American lives lost.  Once we entered World War I, the scope of Memorial Day was expanded to include all men and women who had lost their lives while serving in the U.S. military.

In comparison, Veteran’s Day is a way for us to pay respect to American veterans of all wars, living or dead.  Once called Armistice Day (changed to Veteran’s Day in 1954), it was originally intended to honor American veterans of World War I only.

For this Memorial Day, I thought I would look into how other countries around the world pay tribute to their fallen soldiers.  I found that there are such observances, and that many of them have ties to World War I – one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

ANZAC Day 2023In Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day (an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) recognizes the men and women who have died while serving in their respective militaries.  On April 25, 1915, some 20,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers joined Allied forces in year-long attempt to control Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula.  Just one year later, April 25 was declared Anzac Day by the Prime Minister of Australia.

Interestingly, Turkey observes Martyrs’ Day, a Memorial Day-style remembrance of the same Gallipoli Campaign that led Australia and New Zealand into World War I.  Turkey had sided with Germany and its allies in World War I, and the Gallipoli Campaign was considered a major victory for them.  Observed on March 18 of each year, Martyrs’ Day commemorates the Turkish men and women who have died for their country.

Cenotaph London

Both the United Kingdom and Canada observe a holiday called Remembrance Day on or near November 11 each year.  Similar to other observances around the world, the holiday has ties to the armistice that ended World War I.  Because the truce went into effect at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918, British and Canadian citizens hold a two-minute period of silence at that time to honor those lost to war. 

Similar to the U.S., South Korea celebrates Memorial Day, but theirs is held on June 6.  The Korean War ended in July of 1953, and by 1956, Memorial Day had been declared a public holiday in Korea.  It honors both military and civilian war casualties.

It was interesting to learn that so many countries have designated observances to honor those who have lost their lives to war.  Take a moment to honor those who have died to defend peace, and let’s hope that we can someday end all war.  Happy Memorial Day to you!

Until next time,

Arlington National Cemetery