What’s the Difference Between Memorial, Veterans & Armed Forces Day?

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Did you know there are over 1.4 million active-duty military personnel serving America? They are spread out from one side of the world to the other—from San Diego, California, to Okinawa, Japan. These brave men and women leave their homes, families, and the comforts of regular life to serve the United States government. 

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Over the years, there have been nearly innumerable amounts of military members who have served, fought, and died for the United States. It’s only fitting that the members of our military are honored with days specifically dedicated to recognizing their service. Those days include Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and Armed Forces Day.

Though it’s tempting to think each of these days is the same, that’s not the case. Each day is unique and distinct, and honoring members of the military should be observed accordingly.

Memorial Day Honors All Military Dead

While it’s easy to get the days confused, Memorial Day is not the day when you should whip out the BBQ to signal the first day of summer. For many across America, Memorial Day has come to mean exactly that, but its reason for being a national holiday is one of thoughtfulness, sobriety, and seriousness.

Memorial Day is a day when every American can stop what they’re doing and honor the men and women in every branch of the Armed Forces for their sacrifices. It is a day to remember those who have died defending the freedoms America enjoys. This is a day to remember all those who have fallen in battle or the line of duty while serving their country.

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Veteran’s Day Honors All Living Who Served in the Military

Veteran’s Day is a day when honor, respect, and tribute is paid to the men and women who have served in any capacity in the Armed Forces. It is a day to respect and thank those who have fought and served the United States.

This is the day to tag your former military friends on Facebook and thank them for their lifetime of service and dedication. Veterans Day isn’t solely for those who fought in war, but for all those who have served in the US military.

Armed Forces Day Honors All Who Currently Serve in the Military 

As opposed to the first two holidays, Armed Forces Day honors all current military members who serve in any branch in the Armed Forces.

Though each branch of the military such as the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have their own days to recognize and honor their branches, Armed Forces Day presents an opportunity for every American to recognize and honor all the members of the Armed Forces currently serving. 

Memorial Day Began After the Civil War

Prior to the Civil War, the only major conflict for Americans had been the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t until after the war was fought that the government was formalized and national holidays were set up and signed into law.

After the Civil War, an organization of Union veterans known as the Grand Army of the Republic decided to establish an event called “Decoration Day.” The purpose of the day was to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate. Major General John Logan set the day to be May 30th since flowers would be in full bloom all around the south where a majority of the graves were found.

The very first celebration took place on May 30, 1868, in Arlington National Cemetery. Throughout the rest of the 1800s, the celebration was adopted by every state in the Union. May 30th remained a yearly day of remembrance for all Civil War dead until America fought in World War I. After that point, the day became one to remember all military dead who fought in any war. By 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and was permanently moved to the last Monday in May.

Veterans Day Began After World War I

On November 11, 1918, Armistice was officially declared, ending World War I, known to that generation as “The Great War.” It was thought that World War I would be the war to end wars and that we’d finally see the last of it. That, however, was not the case.

In 1919, President Wilson declared November 11 to be celebrated nationally as “Armistice Day.” This was to be an opportunity to celebrate all those who served in WWI and were veterans of that engagement. 

In 1954, however, America had just gone through World War II and Armistice Day was no longer a broad enough day of recognition. Now, we had servicemen and women who served in WWII that needed to be honored and recognized. Congress officially changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day and then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law.

Though the date of remembrance was changed once, it was quickly changed back to November 11, marking the day that WWI concluded. To this day, Veterans Day celebrates all veterans that have fought for America and the holiday is celebrated on November 11, no matter what day of the week it falls on.

Armed Forces Day Began to Unite Military Celebration Days

Today, there are six branches of the United States Military— the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force, and the Coast Guard. Each branch has it’s own days during which they recognize their role in America’s history. The Marine Corps, for example, celebrates their “birthday” on the day the corps was founded. However, there was no single holiday for the civilians of America to celebrate all branches of the Armed Forces together.

President Harry S. Truman decided there should be a day when all branches of the military are recognized and honored. After he got the ball rolling, Armed Forces Day was officially created on August 31, 1949. Today, this day is celebrated during the third Saturday in May.

How to Celebrate Memorial Day

Memorial Day is ultimately a day of remembrance. It is a day to think of the sacrifice that has been made by men and women for the freedoms America enjoys. The men and women who gave up their lives were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, best friends, cousins, husbands, and wives. Each had a family that was deeply impacted by their death.

Because of this, a National Moment of Remembrance has been established during Memorial Day at 3:00 pm. From 3:00-3:01 pm local time, there is a moment of silence to hold space and memorialize those lost in wars. During some observances, such as those at Arlington National Cemetery, a 21 gun salute is used to recognize the sacrifice and seriousness of the day.

How to Celebrate Veterans Day

Veterans Day is the day to celebrate all those who have served in the armed forces. Shout them out on social media, invite them over for a picnic, and play some of your favorite military tribute songs.

This is your opportunity to let the vets in your life know how thankful you are for their life of sacrifice on your behalf, how grateful you are for their service, and how proud of them you are for their decision to serve in America’s Military.

How to Celebrate Armed Forces Day

Armed Forces Day is the lesser-known day of celebration when compared to Veterans Day or Memorial Day, but it’s just as important and valuable and should definitely be celebrated. This is the day when you can recognize all members of the military, past and present. 

Service members may love what they do, but leaving their friends and family or even taking their family all around the world with them from base to base takes a lot of sacrifices. Many military families don’t get to “settle down” until they’re retired. For every military family, there is the strain of deployment, time away, constantly moving from one location to another, and, in time of war, the continual question whether their loved one will return.

These men and women, past and present, deserve recognition and thanks. During Armed Forces Day, you’ll be able to find festivities and parades on or near military bases. Look up and see what celebrations are occurring in your area and plan to attend some with your family. Explain to your children why these men and women are so important and why they deserve to be recognized. 

Whether you’re celebrating friends you know, parents who served, or your children who have decided to follow in a family member’s footsteps, recognizing the men and women of the Armed Forces is an important opportunity to show them how appreciated they truly are.

Honoring Our Heroes

Though all three days of celebration are slightly different, each day gives us an opportunity to celebrate the bravery, heroism, and remarkable sacrifice of our servicemen and women. When these days come around each year, be sure to take the opportunity to celebrate them and honor the heroes in your life.


Sources

  1. U.S. Dept Writers. “Memorial Day History.” Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, July 20, 2015. www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp
  2. U.S. Dept Writers. “History of Veteran’s Day.” Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, July 20, 2015. va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp
  3. Contributing Editors. “Armed Forced Day.” Holidays, Military.com, 2020. www.military.com/military-appreciation-month/history-of-armed-forces-day.html
  4. Robinson, T. T. “It’s Time You Know the Difference Between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.” Holidays, Military.com. 2020. military.com/memorial-day/its-time-you-know-difference-between-veterans-day-and-memorial-day.html

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