It’s a three-day weekend, Memorial Day, and I am happy to have a few extra hours to get caught up on FaceBook and other social media. I was scrolling thru my FaceBook posts and noticed this message from William Pease, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “Did you know most Americans are confused about the differences between Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and Armed Forces Day? It’s true. Though all three honor the activities and accomplishments of our men and women who serve our country, many people don’t know the difference between these three prestigious and honorable celebrations.”
I’m now saying to myself, I know that these are different holidays. Memorial Day honors the war dead, and Veteran’s Day honors those who served. However, I am less familiar with Armed Forces Day. My guess is that it honors all military personnel on active duty. Of course, by now, the question has become a post for this blog because I wanted to make sure I understood the difference, and am sure that my readers will want to do the same.
Armed Forces Day was created on August 31, 1949, by then Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. It would replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department — the Department of Defense. Each of the military leagues and orders was asked to drop sponsorship of its specific service day to celebrate a joint and larger holiday, Armed Forces Day. The Army, Navy and Air Force leagues adopted the newly formed day. The Marine Corps League declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day.
In addition to combining one day of recognition for all military organizations, Armed Forces Day was created to serve other purposes:
– educate civilians and increase awareness of the Armed Forces.
– expand the public’s understanding of what type of job is performed and the role of the military in civilian life. It was a day for the military to show “state-of- the-art” equipment to the civilian population they were protecting.
– honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States.
Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May. Armed Forces Week begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May. Because of their unique training schedules, National Guard and Reserve units may celebrate Armed Forces Day/Week over any period in May. [Source: Ref 1]
What began as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers, evolved into what we celebrate as Memorial Day. However, Memorial Day ceremonies had been conducted earlier in different places across the U.S. as early as 1866.
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.
To ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.” [Source: Ref 2]
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 at the Palace of Versaille, near Paris, France. This treaty officially ended World War I, often referred to as the Great War. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
On May 13, 1938, Congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans’ service organizations and the American people. [Source: Ref 2]
What are you doing on Memorial Day 2013? What will you do to honor the memory of our fallen soldiers who fought to preserve the freedoms that we have today? If nothing else, please pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. your local time to remember that freedom is not free.
While there are many programs for veterans, there are many needs that have arisen over the past decades that are not addressed by current programs. A number of veterans have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or some form of mental illness. Others are homeless as a result of mental illness while others are unable to find work. Consider working with your local community to support some of the unmet needs of U.S. veterans and war heroes. Many brave men and women paid a dear price with the lives protecting the U.S. government and its citizens as well as those in other countries and nations.
1. Armed Forces Day History, http://www.defense.gov/afd/history.aspx
2. Memorial Day and Veterans Day Histories: www.va.gov