Tomorrow, Saturday, May 20, we have yet another opportunity to give honor to whom honor is due. This occasion, formally established on August 31, 1949, is Armed Forces Day. It was first celebrated on May 20, 1950.
This day, however, seems to get lost in the plethora of other similar, more prominent days, such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Few people realize the fact, but each of these days has a distinct and different emphasis. Our general lack of that knowledge results in our honoring the wrong people at the wrong time. If you, too, are confused, perhaps the following explanation will help.
Veterans Day, November 11, is observed in honor of those who served in our military during wartime. Originally, it was called Armistice Day and marked the end of World War I and honored those who fought in that war. It was later expanded to honor all those who served during all of our country's wars. As a result of not understanding the focus of the honor to be given, many have failed to direct their honor to those who most deserve it. It emphasizes the living.
Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is observed in honor of all those who died in service to our country. Many people mistakenly use this as a time to honor anyone who served or is currently serving, regardless of whether they died, were wounded, or returned physically unscathed. That is an incorrect commemoration and actually diminishes the honoring of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It is intended to emphasize the war dead.
Armed Forces Day, however, is observed to honor all current service personnel, both active and reserve, as well as veterans. This special day should be the holiday on which we honor service personnel the way we erroneously tend to celebrate Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
When it was created in 1949, this observance combined the formerly separate commemorations of Army Day, Navy Day, and Air Force Day into one gigantic celebration of all branches of the armed forces--Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, all of which had recently come under the authority of the new Department of Defense (formerly called the Department of War). Although the Coast Guard is not actually under the Department of Defense, the National Security Act of 1947 clearly defined what was included in the "Armed Forces." It stated,
The term "Armed Forces" means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The special day was originally intended as an "educational program for civilians" that aimed to "expand public understanding of what type of job is performed and the role of the military in civilian life." On this day, the military showed off its modern equipment to show civilians what they were using to protect the country.
So just how are we to observe Armed Forces Day? President Harry Truman's proclamation gave general direction:
I invite the Governors of the States, Territories, and possessions to issue proclamations calling for the celebration of that day in such manner as to honor the Armed Forces of the United States and the millions of veterans who have returned to civilian pursuits. . . . [civilians should] display the flag of the United States at their homes . . . and to participate in exercises expressive of our recognition of the skill, gallantry, and uncompromising devotion to duty characteristic of the Armed Forces in carrying out of their missions.
Accordingly, that general order has been carried out in various interpretations, including parades, precision skills demonstrations, receptions, open houses at military bases, air shows (think the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels), etc.
Thinking about this day and specifically those in my own extended family who have served in the various military branches, the following people come to mind:
Dillon Summers, my uncle--U.S. Army
Charles Dietterich, my father-in-law--U.S. Navy
Kyle and Beryl Arnold, my cousins--U.S. Air Force
Justin and Joshua Peterson, my nephews, and J.N. Standifer, my uncle--U.S. Marine Corps
Anthony Masters, my cousin--U.S. Coast Guard
And many other friends and acquaintances.
How about you? What are you doing to commemorate those who have served or are currently serving in our Armed Forces. At least fly your flag proudly. And whisper a prayer of thanks for those millions who have served or are currently serving to keep us safe and free.