Friday, May 17, 2013

May 18 - Honoring the Armed Forces

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Armed Forces Day is tomorrow, May 18. It is always on the third Saturday in May, just before Memorial Day, and is preceded by a week of activities. It is one of three days on which the United States honor those who have served their country in the armed forces.

It was first observed on May 20, 1950 with parades, receptions and air displays. President Harry S. Truman was determined to combine several separate holidays for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps,  Air Force and Coast Guard to establish a single holiday for citizens to thank their active-duty military and veterans for their service. On August 31, 1949, then Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace the separate armed forces days (which are still celebrated by the separate services).

The single-day celebration reflects the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy established Armed Forces Day as an official holiday, but since it falls on a Saturday it does not affect most offices. 

The longest city-sponsored Armed Forces Day Parade is held by Bremerton, WA, which celebrated the 64th parade in 2012. National Guard and Reserve units may celebrate Armed Forces Day/Week over any period in the month of May.

The differences among the three holidays celebrating the armed forces are largely in their origins:

  • Armed Forces Day originated from the services' celebrations.
  • Memorial Day dates back at least to 1866, when a memorial was first held in Waterloo, NY to honor dead Union soldiers.
  • Veterans Day, November 11, was originally Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I.  It has special significance in Europe, where a whole generation of young men died in the trenches from a war that is increasingly described by historians as a diplomatic "sleepwalk" into conflict as various treaties came into effect broadening the scope of involvement. Approximately 250,000 Americans died in the war, a few volunteering before Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917. 

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