Celebrating America’s Military Holidays

The History of the Military Service Holidays in the United States

Many Americans celebrate holidays honoring those who have sacrificed for our freedoms, liberties and values. Holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day probably bring to mind fond memories of summer cookouts, fireworks and fun. Most Americans, however, may not realize the origin of these military holidays, or their significance.  Here is a quick overview of the major military holidays celebrated in the US.

Memorial Day
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is believed to have been established in 1868. It was a day set aside for veterans, family members and civilians to ‘decorate’ the grave sites of and remember those service members who lost their lives during the Civil War. It wasn’t until 100 years later in 1968, with the passing of the National Holiday Act, that Decoration Day became Memorial Day. As a result, the holiday was expanded to commemorate and remember all service men and women who have lost their lives in service to our country. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May.

Independence Day
Commonly mistaken for a military holiday due to the presence of fireworks and guns –items often associated with the military– Independence Day is not actually considered a military holiday.  Instead, it is a celebration of the day the original  thirteen colonies that formed the United States of America declared independence from Great Britain.  While Independence Day would not be possible without the support of our first service members, it is the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 that we celebrate each year on July 4.

Veterans Day
Much like Memorial Day, Veterans Day celebrates all those who have ever served in the American military. While Memorial Day commemorates those we have lost in service of our country, Veterans Day honors  all Veterans, living or deceased. According to Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, a Military Veteran is defined as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” Based on this definition, those that serve on Active Duty, or are in the National Guard or Reserves are not considered Veterans. Veterans Day is observed on November 11. This date commemorates Armistice Day, the day on which the Allied Nations and Germany ceased hostilities and ended World War I.

Armed Forces Day
Armed Forces Day is the day we pay tribute and say thanks to those who are currently serving in the military. It is celebrated on the third Saturday of May.  The holiday was established in 1949 in order to recognize all the armed forces, instead of separate days for each service, and was first observed on May 20, 1950.

Military Service Birthdays
While not considered formal holidays, each branch of service holds a special celebration on the day of its founding.  Below is a listing of each of these birthdays.

We have several holidays to respect, applaud and give our thanks to all those brave men and women who have fought for our liberties, rights and freedoms. If you know a Veteran or active duty service member, be sure to recognize them on their special day!