Memorial Day versus Veterans Day. You know you should know the difference. But if you don't actually know anyone personally who has served in the U.S. military, how do you remember which day is which?

At the end of this article, we'll share the names of a small number of the people we honor this Memorial Day--the fallen heroes that I and readers who have contacted me have a personal connection to. 

However, there's a very simple way to remember which day is which, and it has to do with the origin of the words in each special day's name.

If you're just looking for the answer today, we'll give it to you upfront:

  • Memorial Day, which is the last Monday in May, honors the memory of every service member who gave his or her life in our nation's wars. 
  • Veterans Day always falls on November 11, and it honors everyone who served in the U.S military, full stop. It's not limited to people who were wounded or killed, or who fought in combat, or who even served during a time of war. 

However, in order to save you from having to search "Memorial Day versus Veterans Day" again next year (or six months from now), here's the easy way to remember which holiday celebrates which group.

Memorial Day versus Veterans Day.

Keeping the holidays straight really just involves thinking carefully about the name of each day.

Let's start with Veterans Day, even though I'm actually writing this just before Memorial Day. It has its origins as Armistice Day, which was dedicated after the end of World War I, as a way to honor everyone who had served in the U.S. military during that war.

Over time, as the United States fought more wars, including several in which a far greater number of soldiers served, it was expanded to honor everyone who served in the military, full stop. 

Think of the name of the day itself. A veteran is someone who served in the military, but it also means "a person who has had long experience in a particular field," according to the dictionary. So by that second definition, a "veteran" is someone who has likely lived a bit longer than the norm; someone who has been fortunate enough to enjoy a long life. 

Memorial Day, on the other hand, is the older of the two holidays. Its origins trace back to the Civil War, which was still the bloodiest conflict in the nation's history.

Again, just think of the name of the day itself. The word "memorial" comes from the Latin word memorialis, meaning "of or belonging to memory." We remember things that are no longer, and thus Memorial Day exists to provide an opportunity to think about those who served our country, and who are no longer with us as a result.

Another trick: "Memorial" is a near-ish rhyme to "immortal." I know it's not a perfect rhyme, but the two words have audible similarities. Well, you might have heard the idea that people die three times:

  1. when life leaves their body,

  2. when they're consigned to the ground, and finally--

  3. the last time anyone else speaks their name.

By remembering the names of those who died in our military on Memorial Day, we offer them some small piece of immortality, staving off that final, final, final moment. (That's the genius and the magic of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., by the way.)

The names of a few of the fallen.

Of course, Memorial Day is also the unofficial start to summer in the United States. But maybe take a minute to remember those for whom the day exists.

Speaking of which, here's my annual recitation of some of the names of the fallen that I had some connection to, mostly through my reporting and writing during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, readers who want to add the name of a fallen soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, contact me here. I'll update this post.

  • CPT Drew Jensen, Iraq
  • SP4 Randy Carver, Vietnam
  • 1LT Kevin Smith, Iraq
  • PV2 Ralph Vonderhoff, Vietnam
  • SPC Jacob Andrews, Afghanistan
  • CPT Michael W Marker, Vietnam
  • 2LT Todd J. Bryant, Iraq
  • CPL John L. Storment, Korea
  • CPT Timothy Moshier, Iraq
  • SSG Billy P. Roberts, Vietnam
  • SGT Uday Singh, Iraq
  • Everett Sears, World War II
  • 2LT Emily Perez, Iraq
  • David Sears, World War II
  • SPC Jacob Martir, Iraq
  • SGT Jon L Grimmett, Vietnam
  • SGT Major Cornell W. Gilmore, Iraq
  • CW5 Sharon T. Swartworth, Iraq
  • SGT Aaron Smith, Afghanistan
  • PFC Brandon Owens, Afghanistan
Published on: May 24, 2018
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