May 25, 2023
Do you know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day? Both are nationally observed holidays that honor those who served in the U.S. military. Their origins and purpose, however, are different.
Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2023 will occur on Monday, May 29. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War as a way to honor Civil War deaths before evolving into a day to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. In 1971, it became an official federal holiday.
Veterans Day is observed annually on November 11, and pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country during war or peacetime. Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day'' in 1919, on the first anniversary of the end of World War I. It became a national holiday in 1938. President Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954.
Another military holiday is Armed Forces Day, which is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. This holiday honors those currently serving in the U.S. military, and was first observed in 1950.
While Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial start of summer, it can also be a day of remembrance and reflection. David von Damm, Division Director for Security & Emergency Services, executive sponsor of the Veterans Employee Resource Group, and Coast Guard veteran, sees Memorial Day as a time to celebrate and to reflect on freedom and sacrifice. “Memorial Day and the 4th of July are, to me, the most patriotic holidays,” he said. “The 4th of July conjures a sense of freedom. But you can’t think about freedom without thinking about those who sacrificed themselves for that freedom. Memorial Day is a time when I reflect on those who made that sacrifice.”
Kevin Nguy, Electrical Project Manager in the Projects & Infrastructure Modernization Division, and co-chair of the Veterans Employee Resource Group, agrees that Memorial Day is a time when he reflects on the sacrifices made by service members. “I see Memorial Day as a little more of a somber holiday. I celebrate the holiday, having friends and family over to enjoy time together. But I also take time to celebrate and remember those service members who sacrificed to protect our freedoms.”
Kevin transitioned from active duty to the Navy Reserves as a Submarine Officer. In his experience, he finds that while veterans may have more ingrained knowledge of the history and traditions of the military and Memorial Day, all Americans can take a moment to pause and reflect. He said, “While I as a veteran may have a specific understanding of the sacrifices made, all of us can celebrate the people who made those sacrifices.”
David echoed that sentiment, saying, “I would ask everyone this Memorial Day to reflect on an individual they know who served and lost their life in service. Send that person’s memory a thought of appreciation.”