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A Shocking Number Reveals The Purpose Of American Celebrating Memorial Day

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A man walks past headstones, with US national flags in front of them, in section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery before the Memorial Day weekend in Arlington, Virginia on May 26, 2023. Kristoffer Solesbee was in the Airforce as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, and was killed in Iraq on may 26, 2011 when their unit attacked with in improvised explosive device. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/SWSN RESEARCH

A new survey has revealed that less than half of Americans know the true meaning behind Memorial Day, with just over 43% aware it’s a holiday honoring those who died in service while in the U.S. Armed Forces.

This survey of 2,000 Americans , conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the University of Phoenix, tested Americans on their knowledge of the upcoming holiday, which, this year, falls on Monday, May 25.

That’s news to some respondents: The survey found less than half (46%) of respondents knew Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. 

Twenty-eight percent mistakenly believed Memorial Day was a holiday honoring all military veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces — which is actually Veterans Day.

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A row of graves with an American flag of veterans who died during the American wars. Memorial Day honors fallen veterans who died during the wars that the U.S. fought in. CHAD MADDEN/SWNS RESEARCH

A third of respondents (36%) admitted to being unsure of the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Less than half of American knew the purpose of Memorial Day that honored fallen veterans in wars both in the U.S. and abroad. While 83% of all respondents thought Memorial Day was about something else. ONEPOLL/SWNS RESEARCH

The most common incorrect answer? A fifth (21%) believed Memorial Day falls on the last Sunday of May.

A 2019 survey by the university asked respondents some of the same questions and revealed a similar level of confusion. Last year, 55% correctly identified the purpose of Memorial Day, but a similar number (27%) confused Memorial Day with Veterans Day.

This year’s survey expanded on those findings — and revealed respondents were uninformed about more than just the meaning of the holiday.

When asked about the Moment of Remembrance, a moment wherein Americans are asked to pause for a duration of one minute to remember those who have died in U.S. military service, half of those polled hadn’t heard of it.

But a third of respondents (35%) were able to select the correct time for when it takes place — 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.

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Half of the Americans polled had also not heard the term “Gold Star family” — which is a family who has lost a loved one in military service.

Once explained, 55% of respondents said they planned to do something kind for a Gold Star family this Memorial Day.

“For many Americans, Memorial Day is a much-needed day off to relax and enjoy their family. It is important to understand that it is also a solemn day of remembrance. For me, as a combat veteran, and for military members and their families, this day holds great significance. Not everyone I served with was fortunate enough to return home,” said Brian Ishmael, a former U.S. Army sergeant and the current senior director of the University of Phoenix Office of Military and Veteran Affairs.

Even though there’s some confusion about the holiday, 83% of Americans believe it’s important to do something to commemorate Memorial Day.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said we should be doing more to honor both living veterans and those who died serving. And the survey found 76% believe Memorial Day should transcend politics.

While 79% of respondents said their plans for Memorial Day will be different as a result of the current travel restrictions, 78% said they have an opportunity to be more reflective this year.

“At University of Phoenix, like so many others, our annual Memorial Day traditions have altered this year,” said Ishmael. However, we can all still do our part to honor the fallen. Flying a flag, taking a moment of reflection or speaking to a veteran about their experiences are simple ways to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day.”


  • Fly a flag – 43%
  • Leave a flag or flowers on the grave of someone who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces – 30%
  • Attend a local ceremony or patriotic event – 30%
  • Fly a flag at half-mast – 29%
  • Visit a military monument or war memorial monument – 27%
  • Educate my children about the meaning of Memorial Day – 25%
  • Wear a Memorial Day button – 24%
  • Aid a family who lost someone serving in the U.S. Armed Forces – 22%
  • Educate myself about the meaning of Memorial Day – 22%


  • An in-person “thank you” – 48%
  • A text or email – 35%
  • A social media post – 35%
  • A handwritten note – 29%
  • A phone call – 29%
  • A video call – 27%

Produced in association with SWNS Research

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Sterling Creighton Beard

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