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The Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day

Updated on April 4, 2013
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The United States has two holidays dedicated to honoring men and women who have served in our armed forces: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Many people are unsure of the differences between the two, and may even wonder why they are separate holidays.

Here's a look at these two special days — their origins, the differences between them, and the reasons why having two holidays for our veterans is appropriate.

Marker for an Unknown Civil War Soldier at New Albany National Cemetary. Memorial Day was originally a day for honoring fallen soldiers who died during the Civil War.
Marker for an Unknown Civil War Soldier at New Albany National Cemetary. Memorial Day was originally a day for honoring fallen soldiers who died during the Civil War. | Source

Memorial Day

The oldest of the two holidays is Memorial Day, which originated shortly after the end of the US Civil War. In 1868, May 30 was officially proclaimed to be a day for honoring Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, and for providing aid to their widows and orphans. Southern states, understandably, did not observe the holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, until after WWI, when it was expanded to include members of all branches of the armed forces who died in service to their country.

In 1971, the holiday was moved from May 30th to the last Monday in May, ensuring an annual 3-day weekend. This may help explain why the holiday appears to have lost much of its significance. To many, Memorial Day is merely part of the 3-day weekend that kicks off summer, while others see it as simply a patriotic holiday, similar to the 4th of July. Some people consider it a day for remembering anyone who has died, not realizing it was intended specifically to honor veterans who died in service to the country.

National Moment of Remembrance

In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. Although few have heard of it, the act encourages Americans to pause at 3:00 pm local time on Memorial Day for a moment of silence in remembrance of those who have given their lives in service to the nation.

The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. | Source

United States Armed Forces

Branch
Primary Responsibility
US Army
land-based operations
US Navy
naval operations
US Air Force
aerial operations
US Marine Corps
expeditionary and quick-strike amphibious operations
US Coast Guard
maritime (ports and coastal areas) operations

Veterans Day

Veterans Day traces its origins back to the end of WWI. On November 11, 1918, the armistice ending the fighting in WWI was signed. The following year, November 11 was proclaimed by King George V of Great Britain to be Remembrance Day, a day for member nations of the British Commonwealth to honor those who died in what many believed had been "the war to end all wars". Today, many countries around the world still observe Remembrance Day (known as Armistice Day in some countries) on November 11.

America began observing Armistice Day in 1919. In 1954 the day was officially renamed Veterans Day, and became a day for honoring all national veterans, living or dead. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the last Monday in October to create a 3-day weekend every year. Because of the historical significance of November 11, however, and the fact that US observances no longer coincided with worldwide observances of Remembrance Day, there was pressure to move the holiday back to the original November 11 date, which was done in 1978.

Why 2 Holidays for Veterans?

Given the importance of November 11 around the world, it is appropriate for the US to honor its own veterans on that date. Should there be a separate day specifically for honoring those who have died in service to the country, however? Aren't those fallen heroes included when we honor all veterans on Veterans Day?

Do you think there should be two holidays for veterans, or should they be combined into a single day?

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Memorial Day is (or should be) a somber occasion on which we remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and rededicate ourselves to making sure that their sacrifices were not in vain.

Veterans Day, on the other hand, gives us a chance to honor and express our gratitude to those veterans who are still alive to appreciate it, and to be glad that we can be with them. Each day is important for a different reason, and combining the two would diminish the meaning of each.

Do you agree? Take the poll on the right, or express your thoughts in a comment below.

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    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Doc Sonic,

      Thank you for your comments. I agree - he was a great grandfather and taught me about being a patriotic citizen to our country. He is always in my thoughts and forever in my heart.

      My thoughts and heart felt appreciation for you and your son and the sacrifices involved. May you both be well.

      Rice Girl 2011

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Rice Girl, I have a son in the Army who has been to both Iraq and Afghanistan, so I completely agree with you about those serving in the armed firces today. Your grandfather was one of what they call the "greatest generation", and we are all in his debt. Thanks for the comments.

    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Doc Sonic, thank you so much for your hub. I appreciate what your hub has to say and that according to the poll, a majority of your readers agree to keep the holidays separate.

      My grandfather served in WW 2 in the Pacific theatre (Navy). While he did come home, he dealt with the side effects of the quinine (an effort to prevent malaria) for the rest of his life. I also appreciate your statement that Memorial Day should be a somber occasion (and, I believe, NOT just an excuse to have yet another sale).

      Finally, the men and women who serve in the armed forces today have sacrificed so much - without getting on one of my soapboxes, I think holding Memorial Day out of respect for them is the least this country's citizens could do. Absolutely, voted UP!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      I'm glad you found the hub interesting, PWalker. Thanks for the comments and the vote up!

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      Thanks for the history lesson on the origins of Memorial and Veterans Day, Doc. I really hadn't given it much thought, but two holidays makes sense to me for the reasons you stated. Voted up and interesting.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      tirelesstraveler - it was Veterans Day that was moved to October, not Memorial Day (just a typo on your part, I assume). I don't know why they chose to move it to late October instead of early November, which would have been closer to the original date. I'm glad they moved it back too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      I didn't realize Memorial day was in October 71-78. Was in college and out of the country for those years. Glad they moved it back. Both parents were vets. Thanks for bringing this subject up on this very special weekend.