What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day? These two holidays both recognize the importance of military service, and they both honor the sacrifices made by active duty, Guard, Reserve troops, and family members. But these two holidays are separate and distinct; there are good reasons why both are observed each year.
A Brief History Of Memorial Day And Veterans Day
Memorial Day began as something called Decoration Day in the years following the end of the Civil War in 1865. On May 5, 1868, an organization for Union vets called the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day on May 30.
It was intended as a way to honor soldiers lost in the Civil War, “strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land” according to the original proclamation by the organization’s leader, General John A. Logan.
By the end of the 1800s, Memorial Day ceremonies were held nationwide on May 30, leading military leadership and state lawmakers to create formal observances. World War One’s end saw Decoration Day revised and expanded to honor those who died in all American wars but it wasn’t until 1971 when Memorial Day became a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May.
Enter Armistice Day, Later Known As Veterans Day
Veterans Day has a similar connection in its’ origin story thanks to World War One, but in the case of Veterans Day, the end of the war was the catalyst for the creation of the holiday rather than a modification of it ala Memorial Day.
The end of World War One became known as Armistice Day. Hostilities ended on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour with the signing of the armistice agreement; Armistice Day was named in honor of this final moment of “the war to end all wars”.
But as some history-oriented websites point out, World War One was NOT the last of such armed conflicts in spite of its’ name. Some speculate that at the end of hostilities in Korea, with the singing of an armistice agreement, that the very word “armistice” had been tainted due to the lack of any kind of decisive victory in the war.
“Armistice Day” would soon give way to “Veterans Day” via presidential declaration in 1954.
The Major Difference Between Memorial Day And Veterans Day
Aside from their different histories, origins, and intentions, the biggest difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is who each observance is for.
Veterans Day honors those who have served in the past, present, and even pays tribute to those who will serve in the future. But Memorial Day is, as the name implies, a time to pay respects to those who have died either while serving their country, as a result of military service, or after they have finished serving as a retired or separated veteran.
To put it another way, (and perhaps not quite adequately enough) Veterans Day is for the living, Memorial Day is for the dead. That’s an oversimplification of the purpose of these two observances but as a convenient way to remember and keep both holidays separate in the mind it’s a very handy memory aid.
There are many veteran-themed blogs, organizations that support vets, and military history sites; one common theme among many of these diverse groups and activities is the importance of not confusing Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
It’s a point of pride and honor for those who have served to observe Veterans Day, and likewise for Memorial Day. But the more somber underlying meaning of Memorial Day deserves to be contemplated even as we enjoy our day off work or school.
Veterans Day also recognizes those who have made or are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice when serving in uniform, but the holiday is definitely a time of positive affirmation and thoughts of the future, not just the accomplishments and sacrifices of the past. Both holidays deserve the attention they are due and there are many ways to participate.