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Memorial Day was established as a national holiday in 1971, though states like New York have been marking the day since as early as 1873.
The holiday always falls on the last Monday of May. It’s intended to be a day to remember the soldiers who have died fighting in U.S. wars.
Sometimes it’s referred to as Decoration Day because many families spend part of the day leaving flowers and other decorations on military graves.
Typically, the president and vice president spend Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. They place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which symbolizes all of the people who died in American wars but whose bodies never made it home or whose names have been forgotten.
According to the official World War II Memorial website, almost 405,400 Americans died in World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945.
The Americans who died were some of the estimated 40 to 50 million people total who died in the conflict, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The war started after Adolf Hitler, the German dictator and leader of the Nazi Party, invaded Poland. Poland’s allies, Great Britain and France, responded by declaring war on Germany.
The U.S. was brought into the war after Japan, which fought with Germany, attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Soon, many countries had chosen sides and the war was global. The main conflict was between the Axis powers — Germany, Japan and Italy — and the Allied powers — France, Britain, the U.S., China and the Soviet Union.
Horrible things were done during the war, including the Holocaust, which killed about 6 million Jewish people. The U.S. also dropped the only atomic bombs ever used in combat on Japan, killing an estimated 140,000, according to the BBC.
When the fighting was over, World War II had become the bloodiest and largest war in history.