Many Americans celebrate Armed Forces Day annually on the third Saturday of May. It is a day to pay tribute to men and women who serve the United States’ armed forces.
Armed Forces Day is also part of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May.
Many events across the United States take place on Armed Forces Day to honor Americans in uniform who served their country in times of war and peace. Those who are honored on this day include people who serve the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. National Guard and Reserve units may celebrate Armed Forces Day/Week over any period in May because of their unique training schedules. Events and activities may include:
- Multi-service military displays in areas open for the public.
- Various educational activities that teach children about the armed forces.
- “Support the Troops” themed motorcycle rides.
- Large parades and other local celebrations.
Certain types of music are also played at Armed Forces Day events, including at memorials and at cemeteries, as a way to respect those in the armed forces who died for their country. For example, buglers have played a bugle call, known simply as Taps, on Armed Forces Day in recent years. Taps is usually sounded by the United States military at events such as flag ceremonies, memorial services and funerals.
On August 31, 1949, Louis Johnson, who was the United States’ Secretary of Defense, announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The event stemmed from the armed forces’ unification under one department – the Department of Defense. The Army, Navy and Air Force leagues adopted the newly formed day. The Marine Corps League declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day too.
The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated on Saturday, May 20, 1950. The theme for that day was “Teamed for Defense”, which expressed the unification of all military forces under one government department. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the day was designed to expand public understanding of what type of job was performed and the role of the military in civilian life.
Armed Forces Day was a day for the military to show “state-of-the-art” equipment to Americans. It was also a day to honor and acknowledge Americans in the armed forces. Parades, open houses, receptions and air shows were held at the inaugural Armed Forces Day. Armed Forces Day is still celebrated nationwide today and is part of Armed Forces Week.