How to Thank Service Members on Armed Forces Day

Armed Forces Day
A woman reunites with her soldier, just returning home. The hardships they endure are part of why it’s so important to thank them for their service. Credit: WBUR.

Today is Armed Forces Day.

It honors all service members who currently serve and all who have served, to include the Reserves and National Guard.

“I invite the Governors of the States, Territories, and possessions to issue proclamations calling for the celebration of that day in such a manner as to honor the Armed Forces of the Armed Forces of the United States, and the millions of veterans who have returned to civilian pursuits,” President Harry Truman proclaimed on February 27, 1950.

 

The Origins of Armed Forces Day

As World War II ended, the Cold War began. The need for a unified national defense meant a change in how the Navy and Army interacted.

When the Cold War intensified, President Truman and Congress crafted the National Security Act of 1947.  This legislation inaugurated the National Military Establishment (soon to become the Department of Defense), and it created the Central Intelligence Agency, the position of Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the United States Air Force.

On Wednesday, August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced that a single day would replace the separate Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Days.

It is important to note that while the Coast Guard does not fall under the Department of Defense when the nation is not at war, as per the National Security Act of 1947, “Armed Forces” means the four aforementioned branches of service and the Coast Guard.

President Truman followed up by issuing a presidential proclamation on February 27, 1950.

“May 20th, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration of America’s defense team of its progress … towards the goal of readiness in any eventuality.”

 

The First Armed Forces Day

The initial Armed Forces Day featured parades, open houses, receptions and air shows to allow the public to learn more about the military.

Over 10,000 troops from all branches of service, cadets and veterans marched past the president and his party.  An estimated 33,000 participated in New York City under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types.

In harbors around the country, the USS Missouri, USS New Jersey, USS North Carolina and USS Iowa were opened to the public.

In a May 17, 1952 editorial, the New York Times  opined, “This is the day on which we have the welcome opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces … to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world.”

On March 18, 1961 President John Kennedy declared that Armed Forces Day would be on the third Saturday of May.


Armed Forces Day
Armed Forces Day allows civilians to see and hold some of the equipment servicemembers use, as well as to meet and talk with them.

How to Celebrate the Day

There are a number of ways to thank and learn from servicemen and women.  

  • Attend an Armed Forces Day Parade:  Many communities host these, and they are a great way for family and friends to meet members of the military.  
  • Volunteer at an Organization that helps the Military: Give time and energy to those in the military by working with an organization that helps veterans.
  • Donate:  This can be done by giving money or items to a worthy cause that helps service members.  Including a letter of thanks with the donation only makes the giving that much better.
  • Talk to Servicemembers or Veterans: Armed Forces Day is about honoring those serving, so why not just talk to them about their service?  Not only does this allow them to talk about what they do, but you might learn something more about the military.
  • Fly the Flag: A simple act, it sends a powerful message of thanks and respect to those who serve.

This is the day to thank those who serve the nation every single day of the year.

 

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