Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died while serving in the US Armed Forces. Veterans Day is to honor all who have served whether currently on active duty, reserves, or retired.
Let me repeat. Memorial Day honors the dead, Veterans Day is for all who have served.
Memorial Day was originally called Decorated Day and was created by Union soldiers in 1868 as a day to recognize those who died fighting in the Civil War by decorating their graves. The Confederate also had their own tradition for honoring the fallen soldiers. Eventually the two different holidays were merged together and became known as Memorial Day.
On Memorial Day, we are meant to take the time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and our rights. Flags are flown at half-staff until noon in remembrance of the more than one million soldiers who lost their lives in service to their country. Then the flag is raised to full-staff as a way of the living lifting up the spirit of those who have passed and not let their sacrifice be for nothing. The raising of the flag is a promise to keep up the fight.
Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. It was originally on May 30th (as Decorated Day) because, at that time, there was no battle that had taken place on that date in history. In 1971, an act of congress went into effect called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which made four federal holidays move to always be on a Monday to give a long weekend, including Memorial Day. While a long weekend is nice, it sometimes seems like it undermines the meaning of the holiday because it becomes a reason to party and/or travel. Then again, some would argue that, by making the ultimate sacrifice, those soldiers we are remembering gave us the freedom to be able to have those celebrations and cookouts that Memorial Day is so well known for.
Veterans Day is a day to honor all veterans of the armed forces, including those who are active duty, reserves, and retired. Veterans Day is always on November 11th because that marks the anniversary of the end of major hostilities during WWI. It was on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that we came to an armistice. For this reason, the holiday was originally called Armistice Day, but was changed to a name that encompassed all soldiers in 1954, not just those in the war.
There was a brief time that Veterans Day, like Memorial Day, was moved to always be on a Monday through the same Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It was quickly moved back to November 11 less than 10 years later. By keeping it on November 11th, the holiday coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in other countries that also commemorate the end of WWI.
By keeping Veterans Day on November 11, no matter what day of the week that falls on, it helps to keep the reason for the holiday more apparent. As I said, moving the holidays to make sure everyone has a long weekend undermines the meaning of the holidays. Veterans Day, everywhere I’ve known of, is usually a school holiday as well. It is marked by many events, mostly Veterans Day parades to honor all of our Veterans.
Think Before You Speak
Before you say “thank you” to any military members you know, or “happy Memorial Day”, think about the meaning behind the day. Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor those who have died in service to our country.
On Veterans Day, by all means, please thank any veterans you know. Honor those who have/are serving our country. Tell them “happy Veterans Day”.
And really, we should be thankful every day for not only the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to fight for our freedom as a nation, but also to their families and friends who also sacrifice for our country.