The history of Armed Forces Day

Armed Forces Day was established to celebrate currently-serving military service members for their daily sacrifices

The history of Armed Forces Day

Service members salute the American flag during a retreat ceremony Oct. 2, 2014, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Rendering the hand salute to the American flag is a custom and courtesy shared by each branch of the U.S. military. (Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel)

By Military1 Staff

May 20 is Armed Forces Day, a day established to collectively say “thank you” to those serving in the five branches of the U.S. military. Unlike Veterans Day, which is for those who are no longer serving, and Memorial Day, a day to remember and honor those who died during or after serving their country, Armed Forces Day celebrates the service of current military members.

Originally, there were single celebrations for each branch until 1949, when all four branches were unified under the Department of Defense and a single day was established to acknowledge the daily sacrifices of current service members.

Navy Day was last observed on Oct. 27, 1949.

Army Day was last observed on April 6, 1949.

Air Force Day was last observed on August 1, 1949.

The Marine Corps was established on Nov. 10, 1775, but was abolished after the Revolutionary War due to a lack of funds. On July 11, 1798, the Corps was re-established as an arm of the Navy, and celebrated that date as its birthday until 1921, when it switched back to recognizing Nov. 10 as its creation date.

The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated on May 20, 1950, with demonstrations of military might displayed all around the country.

When service members receive thanks from the public on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, they often feel uneasy about accepting the gratitude on a day set aside specifically for retired and separated veterans, or veterans and service members who are no longer living. The creation and celebration of Armed Forces Day allows the public to specifically say, “Thank you!” to current military troops, and offer their appreciation for their sacrifices.

How to celebrate on Armed Forces Day

  • Visit an airshow
  • Offer your thanks and gratitude if you see a service member in uniform
  • Check and see if your town is holding any celebrations in honor of the day