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Difference Between Veterans Day & Memorial Day


October 30, 2022

Do you know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day? Both are federal holidays and have something to do with people in the armed forces, so it’s easy to understand why Americans may confuse the two.

Beyond the surface similarities, however, the two holidays are very different. Read on to discover the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

The Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day

Memorial Day is observed every year on the last Monday in May. It honors and remembers those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Veterans Day is observed every year on November 11. It honors all veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Let’s look at both holidays more closely.

Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

We celebrate these holidays so we don’t forget the sacrifices military men and women, as well as their families, have made in service of their fellow citizens and our nation. Memorial Day solemnly remembers those who gave their lives in military service, while Veterans Day recognizes and honors those who serve and who have served.

What Is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday in May, is a day to remember and honor the men and women who died while serving our country in the military.

History of Memorial Day

The origins of what we know as Memorial Day date back to the late 1860s, according to GovInfo2. On Decoration Day, as it was then known, people laid flowers on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. Over the years, the holiday grew to honor all of those lost.

The day became a federal holiday in 1938. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May1.

More recently, a December 2000 law designated a “National Moment of Remembrance.” At 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, Americans are encouraged to take a minute of silence to remember all those who lost their lives for our country.

What Is Veterans Day?

Veterans Day, observed on November 11, is a day to honor veterans of the U.S. military.

All veterans are recognized on Veterans Day, not only veterans who served during wartime or in combat.

Are Currently Military Members Recognized on Veterans Day?

The Veterans Administration (VA) defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” Although Veterans Day was designated to honor veterans, Americans typically pay their respect to active duty military members on the day, as well.

History of Veterans Day

What we now know as Veterans Day in the U.S. began as Armistice Day. On November 11, 1919, Americans celebrated the first Armistice Day to recognize the one-year anniversary of the unofficial end of World War I, when an armistice put an end to the fighting. In 1938, Armistice Day became a federal holiday.

In 1954, at the urging of veterans service organizations, Armistice Day became Veterans Day – a day to honor all veterans.

In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Monday Holiday Act moved4 Veterans Day from November 11 to the second Monday in November, effective in 1971. But Americans liked November 11 as Veterans Day, so the move was unpopular. In 1975, another law put Veterans Day back where it belonged, and November 11 has been its official celebration date since 19783.

How to Thank Military Members and Veterans

Many Americans are unsure about what to say on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Is it okay to thank veterans for their service? Is it okay to say “Happy Memorial Day” or “Happy Veterans Day”?

What to Say on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day to remember fallen men and women of the military, so it’s not appropriate to wish someone a “Happy Memorial Day.” It’s also not the right day to thank veterans for their service. Instead, if you know someone who lost a loved one in uniform, tell them that you’re thinking of them and the loved one they lost.

What to Say on Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a day to express gratitude to veterans for their service, so it’s entirely appropriate to say “Thank you for your service” or even “Happy Veterans Day.” Here are some other things you might say to a veteran:

  • Thank you for all you do for our country.
  • My family and I appreciate your sacrifice and service.
  • My family and I are grateful for people like you who serve this country.
  • Happy Veterans Day. Thank you.

Keep in mind that not all veterans are comfortable with being thanked for their service, particularly by a stranger. If the veteran’s reaction to your expression of gratitude isn’t what you expected, don’t take it personally. And don’t let it stop you from sharing your thankfulness and respect for those who have served our nation.


  1. 36 U.S. Code 116 – Memorial Day
  2. Memorial Day | GovInfo
  3. History of Veterans Day
  4. Veterans Day