Do you know the real difference between Memorial Day & Veterans Day? The Department of Veterans Affairs encountered enough confusion that they dedicated an entire section on their website to explain the difference between the two similar, though very different, holidays.
Memorial Day & Veterans Day are observed about 6 months apart: Veterans Day every November 11th, Memorial Day on the last Monday of May. Both are meant to recognize the brave individuals who’ve militarily served our country. So, 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 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 Eisenhower changed the holiday’s name 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 is also a celebration of military veterans, but it has a more solemn mood in that it honors those who’ve died in service to our country. When it was first observed after the Civil War, local communities would adorn the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers during what was first called Decoration Day. Originally held on May 30th, since that date wasn’t the anniversary for any particular battle & all soldiers could be honored, Memorial Day shifted after World War I from remembering only Civil War fallen to honoring all 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: Veterans Day is a time to shake the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedom; Memorial Day is a time to remember & honor those no longer here to receive our gratitude in person.