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May 18, 2022

Memorial Day: Teaching About the Vietnam War

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Did you know that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day? This name was derived from the tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers, wreaths, and flags that began at the end of the Civil War. Honoring those who died in service to our country was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, when over 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated at Arlington National Cemetery. Five years later, New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. Many states soon followed, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress established Memorial Day as a federal holiday to be commemorated on the last Monday of May.

Today, Memorial Day is an occasion for honoring those who died serving in all of America’s wars and continues to be commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony includes the placement of a small American flag on all 400,000 veterans’ graves. Traditionally, the president or vice president also places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This Memorial Day, as we observe and honor fallen U.S. military personnel for the 155th year, we want to share resources for honoring those who served and died in the Vietnam War. Here are three video resources from UntoldEdu for introducing this topic, expanding classroom discussion, and making connections to art and history:

Protest Music of the Vietnam War

Remote video URL

Classroom Discussion Questions

  • Historically, how have Americans used music to protest and persuade?
  • What types of protest music have you heard in 21st-century America?
  • In what ways does music hold the power to influence social change?

Vietnam Veterans: Injustice Back Home

Remote video URL

Classroom Discussion Questions

  • Why were returning Vietnam War veterans treated differently from those who fought in previous wars?
  • What was life like for a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War?
  • How did the political and social climate of the 1960s foster combative views of the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: A Monumental Undertaking

Remote video URL

Classroom Discussion Questions

  • What is the nickname often given to the memorial?
  • What elements make up the memorial?
  • Why were there protests when the memorial was unveiled?

Memorial Day Lesson Plans & Resources

Find new ways to discover the meaning of Memorial Day with your students using these free K-12 Memorial Day lesson plans & resources from Share My Lesson.

About the Authors

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Dr. NaJuana Lee

As the Director of Education at DoGoodery, NaJuana analyzes learners’ needs and aligns them to defined learning objectives. She believes in building the learning framework, content and program around learners’ prior knowledge and interests to develop meaningful, engaged, and impactful learning.

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Dr. Lizabeth Fogel

Dr. Lizabeth Fogel is the Vice President, Learning, Strategy and Development at DoGoodery, where she grows partnerships and alliances while recognizing and leveraging the unique working styles, processes, and problem-solving skills of the individuals who make up diverse teams.

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Untold History explores stories, people and artifacts that students won’t learn about in an ordinary text book. Perhaps now more than ever, our history is a vital and very present part of the world around us.

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