Armed Forces Day, observed the third Saturday in May, is a celebration of all those who currently serve in any branch of the military including the Coast Guard and Space Force as well as the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Armed Forces Day honors active duty, Guard, and Reserve members for their service and continued sacrifices for their country.
History Of Armed Forces Day
In the same way that the United States military did NOT begin with a fully-formed Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, etc. Armed Forces Day did not begin with an all-services concept. There were separate celebrations of the Army and Navy, and later, the Air Force.
But when the Department of Defense was named as the central authority for all military branches, a consolidation of these individual celebrations was deemed necessary.
An Armed Forces Day would not cancel other military celebrations like the Marine Corps birthday, Flag Day, or the Air Force birthday, but having a bigger day to honor all branches became part of the schedule, too.
In contemporary times, it does not matter–for the purposes of Armed Forces Day–that the United States Coast Guard does not fall under the Department of Defense but under the Department of Homeland Security instead.
In 1949, Armed Forces Day replaced the individual observations. Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the change, and President Harry S. Truman went on record on this effort in a Presidential Proclamation in 1950.
“Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, toward the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.”
That in anticipation of the very first official Armed Forces Day on May 20, 1950, when Air Force planes performed flyovers over state capitals, and there was a 10,000-troop strong march in Washington D.C. featuring veterans and currently serving personnel. In New York, some 33,000 people held an Armed Forces Day event there.
All of this activity was done prior to Armed Forces Day being named as an official national holiday. That wouldn’t come until more than a decade later when President John F. Kennedy announced Armed Forces Day would be observed as a national holiday. Kennedy went on record in 1963 about Armed Forces Day;
“Our Servicemen and women are serving throughout the world as guardians of peace–many of them away from their homes, their friends and their families. They are visible evidence of our determination to meet any threat to the peace with measured strength and high resolve.” Kennedy adds that these servicemembers are, “evidence of a harsh but inescapable truth–that the survival of freedom requires great cost and commitment, and great personal sacrifice.”
Not To Be Confused With…
Armed Forces Day in America is not the same as Veterans Day (for those who have served but are retired or separated from the military now) or Memorial Day (honoring those who died in service of their country). Armed Forces Day is more like the 4th of July in that all who serve or have served are celebrated.
When reporting about Armed Forces Day, some writers mistakenly suggest that other countries celebrate Armed Forces Day with an implication that foreign observances happen at the same time as the American version.
They do not. Many, many countries observe an Armed Forces Day, but these commemorations are done for different reasons, are held on a vast number of different dates, and may observe specific incidents or individuals important in that country’s history, etc.
Celebrating Armed Forces Day
Armed Forces Day events are held all over America and may include military open houses, parades, commemoration events, and local contests like fun runs, half-marathons, walk-a-thons, etc.
You can attend any of these events to celebrate Armed Forces Day, but there are many other ways to observe including flying the American flag, wearing patriotic colors, thanking veterans for their service, or volunteering with a veteran service organization.
Aside from the Armed Forces Day, military members are also honored in other ways including:
- 29 March: Vietnam Veterans Day
- Last Monday of May: Memorial Day
- 14 June: Flag Day and Army Day
- 4 August: Coast Guard Day
- 18 September: Air Force Day
- 13 October: US Navy Birthday
- 27 October: Navy Day
- 10 November: Marine Corps Birthday
- 11 November: Veterans Day
- 13 December: National Guard Day