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The Difference Between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

Published: November 15, 2021

With Veterans Day just earlier this month, we thought it a great time to touch on how it is different from Memorial Day and also to refresh on some meaningful ways we can show our appreciation for our military, both past and present.

Veterans Day is observed every November 11; Memorial Day is observed the last Monday of each May.

Both honor the military men and women of our country—which you are probably aware of. But do you know how they are different? Without knowing this important difference, the two holidays can otherwise blend together:

Veterans Day celebrates all those who have served, or are currently serving, in our country’s armed forces, whereas Memorial Day is a somber occasion honoring the fallen soldiers who died while in service to our country.

Yet another important patriotic holiday honoring our military is: Armed Forces Day, which is observed on the third Saturday each May. Unlike Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the focus on this holiday is on active military men and women.

A Very Brief History of Veterans Day and Memorial Day

“Armistice Day,” what Veterans Day was once known as, was first observed on November 11, 1919—the one-year anniversary of WWI’s end. The first Armistice Day celebration commemorated all veterans of the war, both those who perished and those who survived. Today, Veterans Day also honors all veterans of war, including active military. Source: Editors. “Veterans Day Facts.”, 14 Oct. 2009.

Memorial Day also has a former name: "Decoration Day.” Decoration day came into being several years after the Civil War’s end to honor and remember all the many soldiers who lost their lives in battle. On Decoration Day, mourners decorated the graves of the fallen soldiers with flowers, flags, and wreaths—as we still do today. Source: Editors. “Memorial Day Facts.”, 27 Oct. 2009.

Ways to Observe Our Patriotic Holidays

Even though we are grateful in our hearts, we might not know how to show our appreciation. Unless someone close to us is a veteran, or we ourselves are a veteran or active military member, it can be easy to let another Veterans Day or Memorial Day quietly pass us by.

Here are some considerations for honoring and remembering our military persons on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic days:

Attend a memorial service or other event

A memorial service is held each year at Arlington National Cemetery on both Veterans Day and Memorial Day. While it may not be possible to attend one of these services in-person, you can always watch a livestream of the ceremonies, or attend a service at a local cemetery.

There are also many local events you can be a part of. Attending a celebration, parade, or fundraiser—in honor of our veterans or active military—are all simple, fun, and patriotic ways to show your support.

Showing Appreciation Throughout the Year

Expressions of appreciation need not be limited to patriotic holidays. Here are some ideas for any time of year:

Donate your time or money

There are a variety of volunteer opportunities, from driving a veteran to a medical appointment, to helping lay wreaths on the graves of veterans. The Long Island State Veterans Home offers some additional ways to be of service to veterans here.

Donating to a charity that offers assistance to veterans, or simply financially helping a veteran you know in need, are some simple ways to help.

Say ‘thank you’ to a veteran or active military person

Sometimes a simple ‘thank you for your service’ can really make a difference. Letting an active military person or veteran know they have your support and gratitude is an easy way to brighten their day. A ‘thank you’ can be a simple greeting offered on the street, or in the form of a letter written to a veteran at a care home.

Send a care package to an active-duty service member overseas

A care package with necessities and niceties, is a warm sentiment that will be very much appreciated. It is a small but powerful way to show your support. A helpful guide on sending care packages to overseas troops can be found here.

Appreciation Going Forward

Our patriotic holidays are opportunities for us to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy today in-thanks to our veterans and current military men and women. Knowing the difference between these patriotic holidays is important, because it helps us to observe them purposefully. Our appreciation need not be limited to specific dates on the calendar, as there are many simple ways throughout the year that we can show our thanks to those who have served and continue to serve our country.

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