What's the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?
Many people will ask that question today, since we actually have two military holidays in the United States. There's a big difference between them however, and you want to be sure that you get it right.
So here it is summed up quickly. As an added bonus, we'll share an easy tip on a meaningful thing you can do to support American veterans, that takes about 60 seconds. (If you're short on time just scroll down to the bottom of this article where it says "How to honor veterans.")
First, the story of Veterans Day. We celebrate it on November 11 each year--a day to recognize everyone who has served honorably in the U.S. armed forces. This is a pretty big group: about 7 percent of all Americans.
The day encompasses all veterans' service whether they served in wartime or not, whether they saw combat or not. In fact, for decades during the Cold War and afterward, only a very small number of our troops were ever in a position to hear a shot fired in anger. Simply having worn the uniform is enough for this day.
Veterans Day this year falls on a Saturday. However, it's observed on Friday the 10th--at least to the extent people get the day off. Federal offices and some state and local offices will generally be closed; most private businesses will still be open.
Memorial Day is the more sacred of the two holidays in my opinion, because it celebrates the sacrifices of every member of the armed forces who gave his or her life for our country.
Obviously the group of people it honors is smaller than Veterans Day: about 500,000 troops who have given their lives in all of our nation's wars. It takes place on the last Monday in May each year, so while the ceremonies are often more somber than Veterans Day, the day off from work also serves as the unofficial kickoff to summer.
Some people, including veterans, find it a bit off-putting that so much of this holiday revolves around beaches and barbeques. They're certainly entitled to their opinions, but to my mind there's no disrespect; the chance to enjoy life like this is in a carefree moment is a small part of what so many have sacrificed for.
Memorial Day came first, as it was originally observed in 1868 to commemorate soldiers who died while serving in the Civil War--but only on the Union side. (There was also a separate Confederate Memorial Day in some Southern states.) By the end of World War II, the commemoration was expanded to include all soldiers who perished in any of the nation's wars.
Separately, Veterans Day has its origin as the commemoration of the armistice that ended World War I: the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. As a result, several other nations who fought with the United States during World War I also celebrate this holiday at the same time. Also after World War II, it was expanded to cover any veteran who served at any time.
How to honor veterans
As stated, Veterans Day honors everyone who ever wore the uniform and served honorably--even people like yours truly who served in the army but never saw anything remotely resembling combat. Stlll, I'd ask you to take a moment or two to think of a special group of troops.
These are the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who were wounded in combat or otherwise injured during their service. We are fortunate in that the number of troops killed in action is much lower in recent wars, but that means many more come home wounded. Some have very visible wounds; others' injuries are less obvious to passers-by. I'm fortunate to be friends with several men and women who are in this category.
They all deserve our respect and support--and the assistance of our government as they make their way in the civilian world. So if you'd like to make a very small difference in about 60 seconds this Veterans Day, I'd suggest making a quick phone call--to (202) 225-3121.
That's the main number for the U.S. Congress. You can quickly be transferred to your senators' or representative's office, and tell their staffers that you think providing great health care and other services for veterans should be a national priority.
It won't take long, and it's a great way to put a bit of the citizenship for which they served to work, on their behalf. To everyone who's at one point sworn an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," Happy Veterans Day (and "TYFYS").