Most Americans think of Veterans' Day and Memorial Day as much the same. These are, however, very different holidays. While both do honor those who serve or have served in uniform, they have vastly different histories and honor our military in very different ways.
VETERANS DAY. Usually celebrated on November 11, this federal and state holiday honors all men and women who serve or have served in uniform. It began as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I, which ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the Germans signed the armistice agreement. In 1953, a shoe store owner in Kansas who had worked with veterans of World War II, pressed to have the holiday expanded to include all veterans of all conflicts. In 1954, a presidential executive order redesignated it Veterans Day. It is usually celebrated with parades and other events to honor all serving and former military personnel. Veterans Day is also marked by sporting events and picnics in many parts of the country.
MEMORIAL DAY. This holiday, held on the last Monday in May, began to honor the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, and was originally known as Decoration Day. After World War I, it was expanded to honor military personnel who died in any war. A much more somber occasion than Veterans Day, Memorial Day is usually marked with visits to and ceremonies at military cemeteries and other places where war veterans are interred. There is the occasional Memorial Day parade in some areas, but parades are not as common as on Veterans Day.
Thus, you can see that, while both holidays honor the men and women who have served this country in uniform, they are not the same. One, Veterans Day, honors those who serve - currently without regard to whether or not they have served in a war, although we have not had more than ten years without some conflict involving the U.S. military since 1939. It is a time to let every man or woman who wears or has worn the uniform of the U.S. military know how much this country appreciates and honors that service. This is a holiday of joy and is marked with parades, fireworks and joyous activities. Memorial Day is a holiday of sadness and remembrance. It is a time to be reminded that the freedom that we take for granted in this country is not, in fact, free; that it has been paid for with the blood of men and women who asked not what their country could do for them, but who stepped forward and gave their all for their country. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the price that some have paid that the rest of us might live in peace.