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Some national holidays get a little muddled in our minds, most notably Memorial Day & Veterans Day. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has encountered enough of the confusion to have dedicated an entire section of their website to explaining the difference between the two similar, but very different, holidays.
Memorial Day & Veterans Day are observed about 6 months apart: Veterans Day every November 11th, and Memorial Day the last Monday of May. Both are meant to acknowledge the brave individuals who’ve served our country in the military…but what’s the difference between the two?
Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day, was first observed on November 11, 1919, the 1-year anniversary of World War I’s end. In 1926, Congress made it an annual observance, before making it a national holiday in 1938. Then, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the holiday’s name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, to recognize veterans of both World Wars. Today, Veterans Day celebrates all military veterans, living or dead, who’ve served our country, with an emphasis placed on thanking military members in our own lives.
Memorial Day, while also a celebration of military veterans, has a more solemn vibe, as it honors those who’ve died in service to their country. When first observed after the Civil War, local communities would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers, which is why it was originally called Decoration Day. Originally held on May 30th, the date was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary for any particular battle & all soldiers could be honored. But, the occasion shifted after World War I from remembering only the Civil War fallen to those who’ve perished throughout all of America’s conflicts. Memorial Day, as we now know it, was declared a federal holiday in 1971 & moved to the last Monday in May to facilitate a 3-day weekend.
The easiest way to think of the two holidays: consider Memorial Day a time to remember & honor those who are no longer with us to receive our gratitude personally, while Veterans Day should be a time to shake hands with a veteran who stood up & fought for our freedoms.
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