Memorial Day


So, Memorial Day is fast approaching. I’d like to clear up the confusion of this holiday with Veteran’s Day. And while Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day were instituted to recognize those who served in the armed forces, they have one large difference between them.

A brief history behind the holidays is in order. Some of the dates may surprise you.

Veteran’s Day is observed on November 11th. The date wasn’t randomly plucked from a hat, but instead carries a great deal of significance. You see, major hostilities of WWI (the “war to end all wars”) ended the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Hence the November 11th date.

Veteran’s Day started life as Armistice Day and was originally intended to be observed as a day to honor those who died in service to the country. After WWII Armistice Day was expanded to honor all veterans, living and dead. In 1954 Congress amended the bill to rename Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day, established as a time for decorating the graves of war dead with flowers. While decorating the graves of Soldiers is an ancient custom, the earliest recorded instance of it in America was in Savannah, Georgia in 1862. Decoration Day was first called Memorial Day in 1882, and would not be officially termed that until a Federal law was passed in 1967. May 5th was the original date that Memorial Day was celebrated on. It began being observed on May 30th in 1868, a date chosen because it was the optimal time for flowers to be in bloom. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed, and Memorial Day, along with three other holidays, was moved to create a three day weekend.

So, while Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day were both intended to honor our war dead, Veteran’s Day changed and now includes all veterans, both living and dead. Memorial Day stands alone to honor only those who died in service to the country.

It is perfectly fine to wish a Veteran a happy Veteran’s Day. It’s a day of celebration of service to country, so feel free.

Memorial Day, on the other hand, is a somber day for veterans. There is no gaiety involved. While the day creates a three day weekend and is the unofficial signal that summer has begun, to veterans it is far more than a day to grill at the beach.

War is a tremendous consumer of human life. Combatants, as well as civilians, are swept into its uncaring maw. Simple math dictates that the odds are high of a veteran having lost a friend to combat. There is nothing happy about Memorial Day for veterans. It’s a time for them to remember and honor those who gave all.

If you’ve never been in the military, I can understand you not knowing and appreciating the difference between the two holidays. If you’ve ever laughed and joked with someone one day, then loaded their flag-draped coffin onto an airplane before heading out on a mission the next, you know and appreciate the difference. Hopefully, this little insight I’ve provided has helped.

Enjoy the holiday, and reflect on those who, in their passing on an unforgiving piece of ground in a faraway land, gave you the freedom to enjoy it.


The Tactical Pirate

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President and lead instructor. Follow me on Twitter, and check out our blog.

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