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Memorial Day by the numbers: Facts about the solemn American holiday

Memorial Day is observed in the U.S. on Monday, May 29.

While some Americans will use the federal holiday as a time to enjoy and recharge, others view it as a day of mourning.

If you’re not certain why that is, here are 10 number-based facts about how Memorial Day came to be, current observance traditions and key statistics about America’s military.

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4. How many American troops have died in battle?

5. How many active-duty service members are in the U.S. armed forces?

6. How many people participate in the National Memorial Day parade?

10. How much money is spent on Memorial Day barbecues (meat in particular)?

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1. When did the first Memorial Day take place?

America’s first Memorial Day observance was on May 5, 1868, which was originally called Decoration Day by the Grand Army of the Republic, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Johnson’s proclamation was made during the Vietnam War, which had been fought for 11 years at that point. 

The Vietnam War ran from Nov. 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975.

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The law moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May. 

4. How many American troops have died in battle?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs published an “America’s Wars” report in May 2021 that estimated the number of fallen troops who died in battle from 1775 to 1991 was 651,031. 

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Memorial Day Parade

Veterans march on the street May 27, 2019 during the 152nd Memorial Day Parade in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. – The Kings County Parade is one of the oldest Memorial Day Parades in the nation. ( Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images)

6. How many people participate in the National Memorial Day parade? 

More than 10,000 people participate in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., according to Music Celebrations International – the parade’s co-organizer – which works alongside the American Veterans Center.

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7. How many people visit the Arlington National Cemetery around Memorial Day?

Arlington National Cemetery reports that it receives more than 135,000 Memorial Day visitors over the holiday weekend each year. 

The American Automobile Association estimates that more than 42 million Americans will travel over the holiday weekend, according to an updated travel forecast.

People visit North Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Memorial Day

Beachgoers gather in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Saturday, May 29, 2021. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

About 37.1 million Americans are expected to travel by car over Memorial Day weekend while nearly 3.4 million Americans are expected to travel by air. Roughly 1.85 million are expected to travel by alternative means, such as cruises, buses and trains.

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