Memorial Day and Veterans Day are two separate holidays but many Americans find themselves confusing the two as they seem to celebrate the same men and women who serve in the U.S. military. Truth is, Memorial Day is much older than Veterans Day, and each holiday honors different people in the American armed services.
Memorial Day was born from a desire to honor the dead after the Civil War. General John Logan, commander of the Great Army of the Republic selected May 30 on May 5, 1868 as Decoration Day. He chose it to honor his fallen comrades because no battles took place on that day. He said the purpose of that day was to remember those who had died fighting and to decorate “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.”
After World War 1, though, the holiday was adjusted to honor all Americans as well who had died fighting in any war, and not just limited to the Civil War. With congressional approval of the National Holiday Act in 1971, it became a federal holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. In addition, a “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in December 2000. This paved the way for the 3p.m. local time as a point to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”
Veterans Day, on the other hand, began with the end of WWI. The “war to end all wars” may have officially concluded on June 28, 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles, the real end of violent action actually took place months earlier on November 11, 1918 when an armistice between the Americans and the Germans went into effect generally known as the end of “The Great War.”
President Wilson proposed the original idea of Veterans Day in November 1919 to remember the armistice as well as “heroism of those who died in the country’s service”. Act 52 went into effect on May 13, 1938 and officially made November 11 “Armistice Day” and a federal holiday. The holiday was specifically dedicated to the veterans of WWI. But then came WWII, and with America’s largest mobilization of troops, a number of veterans organization called for a title change. And so, on June 1, 1954, the word “Armistice” was replaced with veterans and November 11 officially became what is known today as Veterans Day and a holiday to honor the veterans of all wars.
The most basic and obvious difference between the two often confused holidays is that Veterans Day officially honors those who have served in the military in any way, while Memorial Day formally commemorates those who sacrificed their lives in the service and protection of America’s freedom.