On Monday, May 25th, people throughout the United States will be honoring Memorial Day—a day designated to remember those who died in active military service. Later in the year, people will come together once more and remember Veterans’ Day in November. On this day, we’ll honor veterans of all the wars. The meanings of these two days are often confused or intertwined. While there are similarities between the two, both do honor deceased military members from all the wars. Nevertheless, Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day have their own unique meanings and history. Each day deserves its own moment and recognition, although the differences aren’t well known. Let’s take a look at the true difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, while learning a little more about the two days’ histories.
As mentioned above, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May to honor the military members who died while serving in the American military. Its history dates back to shortly after the Civil War. First known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 with the passing of the National Holiday Act of 1971.
- On May 5th, 1868, The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization formed to honor Union veterans, founded Decoration Day and decorated the graves of soldiers from past wars with flowers. Former general of the Union Army and 3rd Commander in Chief of The Grand Army of the Republic, Major General John A. Logan, is credited with giving Decoration Day its official date of May 30th. Historians have stated this particular date was chosen because the flowers would be in bloom throughout the country.
- The Civil War was the first time national cemeteries were established to bury the dead of the war. In fact, Arlington National Cemetery, the once home of the Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee, began as a national cemetery in 1864. After the war, individual observations were held throughout the country. Earliest records of Decoration Day show that a group of freed slaves organized a tribute for the fallen soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
- The name Decoration Day was chosen because it included all wars and wasn’t the anniversary of a specific battle or war. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield (also soon to be 20th President of the United States), gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and with 5,000 people assisting, the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated.
- Every year on Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance is held at 3:00 pm, Eastern Time.
On November 11th, people will honor veterans of all wars on Veterans’ Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, Veterans’ Day began in order to honor the end of World War I on November 11th, 1918. Then, in 1954, Congress changed the name from Armistice to Veterans’, and legislation was passed on June 1st, 1954, establishing November 11th officially as Veterans’ Day.
- World War I ended on June 28, 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles. Seven months earlier, the fighting of the war had ended with the Allies and Germany putting an armistice into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The switch in the day’s name was made to include veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and all veterans from future wars, thanks to the hard work and pushing of veterans’ organizations for the change.
- For a few years, Veterans’ Day was held on the fourth Monday in October. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed by Congress and went into effect in 1971. However, by 1975, President Gerald Ford had moved the day back to November 11th, because of its historical significance.
- Other countries have similar days to commemorate the veterans of World War I and World War II. Canada observes Remembrance Day and Great Britain honors the second Sunday of November as Remembrance Sunday. France and Australia also have tributes around November 11th.
- The original concept of Veterans’ Day was for towns to have parades, tributes, and public events, which should also include a moment of peace. Businesses were to stop at 11:00 am.
Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day have national ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. While these days have separate meanings, one important thing is for sure—Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day honor and remember our military members who made, and make, the greatest sacrifices to help keep our country safe and free.