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What is the difference between Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day?

Armed Forces Day is specifically for honoring active-duty military personnel while Veterans Day is a celebrates all military veterans.

The bases are marked for Armed Forces Weekend during a game against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images/AFP)

There are around 1.3 million Americans that actively serve in the United States military. While those who gave the ultimate sacrifice are commemorated on Memorial Day and former members of the military are recognized on Veterans Day, all current serving US military personnel have their own holiday.

Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May – this year falling on 18 May – honors service members across the six branches of the military within the US Department of Defense: the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force, the US Coast Guard and the newest branch of service the US Space Force.

Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day

The idea for a national holiday for serving US military personnel was first put forward in 1949 and the first Armed Forces Day was held on 20 May, 1950. It is celebrated on the third Saturday in May and alongside Vietnam Veterans Day (29 March) it is the only overall day for marking the service of all members of the various branches of the US military.

Each individual branch has its own specific day, which includes Flag Day and Army Day, Navy Day, Air Force Day, Coast Guard Day and the Marine Corps Birthday. However, unlike Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day is not a federal holiday.

The federal Veterans Day holiday is held annually on 11 November to honour all US servicemen and women who have been in the forces and were later discharged. It was originally known as Armistice Day, in line with European countries to mark the end of the First World War on 11 November, 1918, with the name being changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

Memorial Day is staged in remembrance of those who have lost their lives in action both on US soil and overseas. Memorial Day was held on 30 May until 1970, that date being chosen by Union General John A. Logan in May 1868 because it did not coincide with the anniversary of any Civil War battle. From 1971 onwards it has been held on the final Monday of May.

By some accounts a group of freed slaves in the defeated Confederacy held the first Memorial Day in 1865 in Charleston but a year later the federal authorities held a ceremony at Waterloo, New York and in 1966 it was enshrined as the birthplace of Memorial Day, becoming an official national holiday in 1971. However, some 25 locations have laid claim to be the source of the original Memorial Day; the tradition of the parade is widely accepted to have been inaugurated in Rochester, Wisconsin.