Armed Forces Day: What is it, and How You Can Honor Those Who Serve
Armed Forces Day is a holiday celebrated by many countries around the world as a way to thank those that serve in the military. In the United States we have many holidays that celebrate those who serve, but Armed Forces Day is held on the third Saturday in May. Read on to learn what makes Armed Forces Day significant and how you can celebrate!
What is Armed Forces Day: its historyIn 1775, while fighting the Revolutionary War against the British, the Continental Congress established the Continental Army, Continental Navy, and Continental Marines. This military force was commanded by General George Washington. Once the US had achieved independence these became the first three branches of the US Armed forces: the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The United States Coast Guard was designated a handful of years later, in 1790. The Air Force was separated from the Army following World War II in 1947. In 2019 the US added a sixth branch of the military, the United States Space Force.
In 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson announced the creation of a unified Armed Forces Day to honor Americans serving in the US military branches. It was intended to replace the separate holidays for each military sector, but those days are still celebrated, especially by those in the designated branches. Armed Forces Day was first celebrated on May 20, 1950, following the unification of the different branches of the military under the U.S. Department of Defense by President Harry S. Truman.
Celebrating Armed Forces DayArmed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday every May. The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated with parades, ceremonies, air shows, and other public military demonstrations. In modern days this has only expanded to now include the entire week before Armed Forces Day, known as Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May. Celebrations span across each day of the week, including flyovers, fitness tests, flag ceremonies, and much more. The longest continuously running Armed Forces Day Parade has been held for more than 70 years in Bremerton, Washington! Armed Forces Day/Week has also become a popular occasion to launch new military vehicles like airplanes, ships, and helicopters. Local military service organizations may also hold fundraisers or events to benefit the Armed Forces.
Importance of Armed Forces DayIn addition to honoring and celebrating all those who serve, an important aspect of Armed Forces Day is the educational opportunity for the public. According to the Department of Defense, Armed Forces Day was originally intended as an “educational program for civilians.” Often, there will be increased access to military bases for the public, where they can tour designated areas, see military equipment up close, and learn about the different jobs that are performed by the Armed Forces. Armed Forces Day draws back the curtain and expands public understanding of how the military plays a role in civilian life.
Memorial Day vs. Veteran Day vs. Armed Forces Day: what are the differences?
What is Memorial Day?Memorial Day, celebrated the last Monday in May in the USA, honors those who gave their lives in military service.
What is Veterans Day?Veterans Day, celebrated every November 11 in the USA, honors all former members of the military. The US also honors veterans of the Vietnam War on March 29, Vietnam Veterans Day.
How is Armed Forces Day Different?Armed Forces Day is the only holiday that honors all people who have served in the military: those on active duty, in the reserves, veterans, and who have passed on.
Armed Forces Day Around the World
Many nations around the world honor military forces with their own Armed Forces Day! While these celebrations may occur on different dates around the world, all honor those who serve and defend their countries. Below are just a few of the ways Armed Forces are celebrated.
- Bolivia: Bolivian Armed Forces Day is celebrated on August 7, the day after their Independence Day, honoring that date in 1826 when Bolivia’s first President created the Armed Forces of Bolivia.
- Bulgaria: The Day of Bravery is celebrated on May 6 with the Feat of Saint George, the patron saint of the Bulgarian Armed Forces.
- Italy: Giorno delle Forze Armate is celebrated on November 4 each year to commemorate the Italian victory in World War I.
- Japan: Every October since the end of World War II, Japan celebrates Self-Defense Forces Day, commemorating the founding of the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces. They also hold a three-day music event called the SDF Marching Festival!
- Nigeria: Celebrated on January 15, Nigerian Armed Forces Day commemorates the surrender of Biafran troops to Federal troops in 1970, ending the Nigerian Civil War.
- Poland: The Święto Wojska Polskiego is commemorated on August 15 to celebrate the anniversary of Poland’s victory over Soviet Russia in the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War.
- Thailand: The Royal Thai Armed Forces Day is celebrated on January 18. This date honors the victory of King Nresuan in the Yuddhahatthi (Elephant Battle) against Mingyi Swa in 1592!
- United Kingdom: Armed Forces Day in the Unite Kingdom is celebrated on June 27, marking the anniversary of the first investiture ceremony for the Victoria Cross military medal for heroism in 1857.
How can you celebrate Armed Forces Day?
- Display the flag of the United States! In his proclamation announcing Armed Forces Day as a new national holiday, President Truman called on citizens to display the flag in recognition of those being celebrated
- Attend or volunteer in a local parade
- Visit your nearest military base if they are allowing public access
- Go to a military museum – many have free or discounted fees for the holiday
- Visit your local cemetery and leave flowers near the headstones of those who serve. You may also be able to volunteer with the cemetery to help clean up around the graves, but make sure you get permission first
- Donate to military-service organizations! Many of these organizations run fundraisers throughout the month of May
- See if your local Veterans hospital has volunteer openings
- Send letters or care packages to servicemen and women deployed overseas
- Don’t forget to wear red, white, and blue!
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