Veterans Day and Memorial Day

The observations and celebrations of the two holidays set aside to honor veterans of the United States Armed Forces has evolved over the last two centuries. Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day seem similar, but have distinctly different purposes.

Veterans Day began as “Armistice Day” to commemorate the signing of the armistice treaty that officially ended World War I. It was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. In 1926, the U.S. Congress officially recognized the end of WWI with a resolution that November 11 would be designated as a legal holiday. The day was officially named “Armistice Day”in 1938–the day was still a recognition of the end of hostilities for World World I, “the war to end all wars”.  In 1952, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a decorated general and veteran of World War II, issued a proclamation declaring November 11 as “Veterans Day” to honor all veterans of all U.S. wars. Although Veterans Day was initially part of the 1968 Uniform Holiday Bill to make it one of four 3-day holidays, by 1978 it was declared that the holiday would be continue to be observed on November 11 no matter what day of the week.

Memorial Day was originally a remembrance for Civil War veterans and called “Decoration Day” because several women’s groups in the South decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers. There were separate celebrations for decorating the graves of Black soldiers in the South. In 1868, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, first observed Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery; however, the South refused to celebrate with the North until after World War I. Originally celebrated on May 30, Memorial Day is now celebrated as a 3-day holiday on the last Monday in May, although there has been a bill pending in Congress since 1999 to restore the observation date of Memorial Day  to May 30.

Memorial Day is specifically designed to honor members of the Armed Services who died in service to our country, while Veterans Day is reserved for all honorably discharged veterans, whether their served during peacetime or war time, and whether or not they gave their lives in conflict.