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There is a Difference

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The following is a guest blog post by Candy Martin, US Army Combat Veteran and Gold Star Mother.  Watch Candy and three other veterans discuss their role as military mothers in VHP’s Motherhood and the Military panel at:

 There is a difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day.  Accept the challenge to learn the difference and educate those who do not.

Many Americans confuse Memorial Day, which will be celebrated on May 31st this year, with Veterans Day, which occurs the 11th day of each November.  It gets more confusing when we toss into the mix – Armed Forces Day, which is always celebrated the third Saturday of each May.  There is a difference.

The difference is subtle but simple: Memorial Day recognizes those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice – giving their lives in defense of our nation, Veterans Day recognizes the service of our men and women who have hung up the uniform and Armed Forces Day recognizes those currently serving in uniform.  As a veteran, the wife of a veteran and a Gold Star Mother, the difference between these days is very personal to me, and I hope it becomes personal to all Americans.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day,” is a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service.

It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, and was first observed May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. By the end of the 19th century, ceremonies were being held each year on May 30 across the nation. In 1968, Congress passed Public Law 90- 363, which moved several federal holidays to designated Mondays and, because of that law, Memorial Day changed to the last Monday in May.


WAC Military Headshot
Women’s Army Corps (WAC) photo. 1975. Candis Ruth Cain Martin Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/113358.

Veterans Day

Veterans Day, observed annually each November 11th, honors those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed November 11th as Armistice Day back in November 1919, making it a legal holiday to honor our nation’s World War I veterans. Nearly two decades later, Veterans Service Organizations (commonly referred to as VSOs) urged Congress to change the name to “Veterans Day” and honor veterans from both World War II and Korea. On June 1, 1954, Congress passed Public Law 380, making November 11th a day to honor American veterans of all wars.


Armed Forces Day

Family in dress mess uniform at military ball
Tom, Candy and Ed Martin at West Point Parents Club of Nebraska. December 2003. Thomas Michael Martin Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/113364.

Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May.  The day is honor those currently serving.

On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the merger of the Armed Forces under one department — the Department of Defense.

Every day is a great day to thank a service member – it is the right thing to do.  So, please mark your calendar for the 3rd Saturday of each May and be certain to acknowledge those who still wear the uniform of our nation on Armed Forces Day.  Memorial Day is the day to honor and remember those who lost their lives defending our nation.  Veterans Day is the day to honor those who hung up the uniform and tucked away their boots.


If you think about it, Memorial Day is the day we honor and remember those who never got to celebrate even one Veterans Day.

The difference between these three important events has become personal to me and my entire family.  As veterans, my husband and I are thrilled to receive the accolades that come our way each Veterans Day.  It gives me assurance that our combined 67 years of service in boots is appreciated.  Today, I have close friends and family members who are still serving in our Armed Forces, and I join the bandwagon that honors them on Armed Forces Day.  While I grew up knowing what Memorial Day is, that holiday turned personal for me and my family when our only son, 1LT Thomas Martin, was killed in action in Iraq in 2007.  Tom’s death, along with the more than 1.3 million Americans who have lost their lives in military service to our nation, are remembered every day by those who loved them most.  Memorial Day is the day our nation honors and remembers their last full measure of devotion.  They are no longer living to hear the thanks, but there are so many ways we can remember their service and their sacrifice.  Memorial Day is their day. One way to do this to share their story with others, as my family and I did for Tom.  Through the Gold Star Family Voice Act, our family has been able to preserve Tom’s legacy at our national Library so that others may know him as we did.

Man and woman in red shirts at gravesite in cemetery
Ed and Candy Martin at the gravesite of their son, Thomas Michael Martin. West Point Cemetery, NY. Thomas Michael Martin Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/113364.

So, the next time you happen upon a news article or overhear a conversation where the lines between Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day have been inadvertently blurred, I challenge each of you to educate and set the record straight.


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