Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day vs. Armed Forces Day

America would not be the country it is today if not for the brave men and women who fought to protect our freedoms throughout our history. To show our respect, America has several days set aside to honor our country’s heroes. While similar, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day have major distinctions but are connected by a common bond of patriotism and respect. Recognizing the unique reasons behind each commemorative holiday is crucial. It allows you to properly show respect to our service members, whose bravery ensures our continued freedom. 

Why It’s Important to Understand the Difference Between Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day vs. Armed Forces Day 

Understanding the purpose of each federal holiday is essential for respecting our brave armed forces. For example, misunderstanding the meaning behind Memorial Day could lead to a social faux pas by accidentally exclaiming, “Happy Memorial Day,” when trying to thank a veteran for their service. Let’s explore the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day so you can confidently pay respect and honor where it’s due. 

Memorial Day 

The Grand Army of the Republic established Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, on May 5, 1868, to honor the soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. Citizens across the nation laid flowers at Arlington National Cemetery, sang hymns, made speeches, and prayed for the fallen.  

Over time, the memorial included all members of the armed forces who were killed in American wars.  

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and, with the Uniform Holiday Act, made it a three-day weekend. Each year, Americans recognize Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. 

Veterans Day 

Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day. This day honors the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. In 1954, numerous veterans service organizations joined together to urge Congress to remove the name “Armistice” and replace it with “Veterans” to honor all veteran military service members of foreign wars.  

When the Uniform Holiday Act was enacted, the holiday’s date was changed to the fourth Monday in October. This change caused national confusion until President Gerald R. Ford signed a law reverting back to the original November 11 observation day. Pay respect to our country’s veterans with a stunning Veterans Flag in stock and on sale now. 

Armed Forces Day 

Armed Forces Day was created as a unified holiday for military members in all armed service branches. In 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson declared Armed Forces Day would be celebrated on May 20, 1950. Previously, there were separate holidays celebrating active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the Air Force. America pays homage to all U.S. military members on the third Saturday in May.

Americans wishing to celebrate our brave armed forces can purchase our outdoor U.S. military flag bundles, which include five flags commemorating the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Display all five flags at once or rotate them on the different military branch birthdays to show your respect today! 

Navy man embracing a woman Navy man embracing a woman

Does Veterans Day Honor Active Military? 

Yes, Veterans Day was created to honor all active-duty armed forces members who have served their country in a foreign war. It is important to note that according to the Veterans Affairs, not all military personnel are considered Veterans. Additionally, the service member can still be alive and serving in any military branch. 

What Traditions Do You Observe on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day? 

Beyond the rich origins and intention behind each holiday, there are unique traditions used to celebrate them. 

Moment of silence 

In 2000, Congress passed The National Moment of Remembrance Act to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity.”  With this Act, all Americans will stop what they’re doing at  3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for two minutes of silence. 

Following this, President Obama signed into law “The Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act” in 2016. This act invites United States citizens to observe two minutes of silence at 2:11 p.m. Eastern Time on Veterans Day.  

Lowering the flag to half-staff 

Memorial Day is a national day of mourning where Americans lower their flags to half-staff to honor the soldiers who laid down their lives, from sunrise to noon.  
On Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day, however, we keep the flag flying high atop the staff to celebrate the contributions of the brave military members who serve our country. Some people confuse Memorial Day with Flag Day, which celebrates the official creation of the American flag on June 14th. While this holiday is important, it is separate from the patriotic holidays listed above. 

Thanking a service member 

Thanking a service member during Memorial Day is inappropriate and could be viewed as disrespectful. Since it is a somber holiday meant to pay respect to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, it isn’t meant to be celebrated; rather, it is designed for remembrance.  

For Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day, however, you are encouraged to show your appreciation and celebrate the bravery of the men and women who keep our country safe. There are many ways to thank a service member, including volunteering or donating to a military support nonprofit organization

Celebrate the Military Holidays with is proud to offer the largest selection of quality, American-made flags and accessories. We are committed to honoring the brave men and women who serve our country by providing exceptional flags that last the test of time. 

Our outdoor American flags are available in multiple fabrics, including nylon and polyester, to ensure they withstand anything the weather throws at them. Thanks to our quality manufacturing, they retain their vibrancy and look beautiful longer than any other flag on the market. 

We also offer a full line of military flags for all branches so you can showcase your patriotism. We stock both indoor and outdoor models so you can create a stunning flag display. 

We offer a FREE military calendar to ensure you never miss a military holiday. Now, you can pay respect to our country’s bravest and strongest with this beautiful 12-month calendar. You can also download our free Memorial Day vs Veterans Day vs Armed Forces Day infographic.