What is the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Memorial Day and Veteran Day both honor the proud men and women who have served, but each has its own purpose and traditions.


In the United States, two national holidays are set aside to honor and remember the brave individuals who have served in the military: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. While both days are steeped in respect and gratitude, they serve different purposes and commemorate different aspects of military service.

Memorial Day: A solemn remembrance

Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is a solemn day of remembrance for those who have died in military service. It originated after the Civil War, which ended on April 9, 1865, a time when the nation sought to honor the soldiers who had perished in the conflict. Initially known as Decoration Day, it was a time for communities to gather and decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers and flags.

The day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Over time, the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, not just the Civil War.

Veterans Day: Honoring all who served

Veterans Day, on the other hand, is celebrated on November 11 and honors all military veterans, both living and deceased, for their service and sacrifices. It coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are observed in other countries to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.

Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day is not just about those who gave their lives in battle. It’s a day to appreciate all service members, with a particular focus on thanking living veterans for their sacrifices. It was in 2016 that President Obama signed the Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act.

Key differences

The primary difference between the two holidays lies in whom they honor:

  • Memorial Day is a time to honor and mourn the military personnel who have died in the performance of their military duties.
  • Veterans Day recognizes the service of all America’s veterans, providing an opportunity to express gratitude to the living veterans for their service and dedication.

Observance and traditions

Both holidays are marked by ceremonies and activities across the country, but each has its unique traditions:

  • Memorial Day is often observed with visits to cemeteries and memorials, at which people leave flowers, flags, and other tributes. Many volunteers place an American flag on graves in national cemeteries. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
  • Veterans Day includes parades and church services, and many places offer free meals or other discounts to veterans. Additionally, many schools and organizations hold special events to honor veterans.

Reflecting on service and sacrifice

Understanding the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is crucial for recognizing the full spectrum of military service and sacrifice. Memorial Day allows us to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice made by so many for the freedoms we enjoy, while Veterans Day offers a chance to express our gratitude to all who have worn the uniform. Both days remind us of the courage, commitment, and the high price of freedom, ensuring that the sacrifices of America’s military personnel are never forgotten.

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