Difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day

Key Difference: Memorial Day and Veterans Day are holidays mainly celebrated in the US. They are both national holidays that honor and remember the people who have served in the U.S. However, Memorial Day remembers the people who died while serving in the Armed Forces, whereas Veterans Day honors all the people, living and dead that served in the Armed Forces.

Both Memorial Day and Veterans Day are holidays mainly celebrated in the US. They are both national holidays that honor and remember the people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, there is a significant difference between the two. While, both Veterans Day and Memorial Day honor the soldiers that served in the U.S. Armed Forces, Memorial Day is specifically to remember the people who gave their lives while serving in the Armed Forces.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served - not only those who died - have sacrificed and done their duty.”

Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. The practice of honoring the graves of the soldiers who died dates back to the 1860s, when many visited the graves of the soldiers, often loved ones who had died in the American Civil War. It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated, however numerous different communities probably independently initiated the memorial gatherings. However, in 1966, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866 by closing the businesses and the residents decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day, named so due to the decoration of the graves of the soldiers.

Veterans Day, on the other hand, is fairly new as compared to Memorial Day, but not at all less important. Veterans Day is celebrated each year on November 11. It was originally known as Armistice Day when U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed it on November 11, 1919, celebrating the end of World War I. Four years later, in 1926, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance, and November 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938.

Armistice Day originally honored soldiers who died in World War I. However, after World War II, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans. Hence, from 1947, it became the holiday that we know today. However, it still did not get its current name, Veterans Day, until June 1, 1954, when Congress amended the bill proclaiming it a holiday to rename it Veterans Day.

Comparison between Memorial Day and Veterans Day:


Memorial Day

Veterans Day

Celebrated in

United States of America

United States of America

Type of holiday

National Holiday

National Holiday




Celebrated on

Last Monday in May

November 11


Remembrance of American war dead

Honors the American soldiers

Formerly known as

Decoration Day

Armistice Day


1860s, commonly credited as May 5, 1866.

November 11, 1919

Observances and traditions

  • The flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
  • The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol.
  • Thousands of parades are held on Memorial Day in large and small cities all over the country.
  • Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
  • Graves of the soldiers are decorated with flowers and tokens.
  • Red poppies are commonly worn to show support for the troops.
  • Also, many people throw parties and barbecues on the holiday, perhaps because it unofficially marks the beginning of summer.
  • Non-essential federal government offices are closed.
  • Most offices and schools are closed.
  • Free meals for Veterans are offered in many fast food and casual dinner restaurant chains.

Image Courtesy: nationalharbor.com, commerce.gov

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So when do you honor Veterans who have died but not during military service?

So when do you honor Veterans who have died but not during service?

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