Veterans Day confusion


Clarification in the comments below.  Useful!


I turned on the TV for a few minutes and people didn’t seem to know what day it is.

In the USA today is Veterans Day.  It used to be called Armistice Day for the end of WWI, but the observance was changed to honor veterans of all wars.  Thank you to all who have served in the military.

In the USA, Memorial Day (in May – once Decoration Day) is the day people remember those who have fallen in war.

So, when did people start confusing Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

Am I wrong or is Veterans Day still the day to honor the living who have served and Memorial Day the day to honor the dead?

Has something changed?  Is there a shift of the meaning of the days taking place?  A merging?

In the Commonwealth countries today is called, I believe, Remembrance Day, again for the end of WWI.  On this day the dead from war are remembered.  But I am in the USA.

In the meantime, this is how Michael Yon put it:

It has been an honor these seven years to cover American and British troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines and elsewhere. It is said that only about 1% of Americans serve in the armed forces. Many of our troops are not even American citizens. I see them in combat regularly. Many veterans are in hospitals or have fresh scars and are recovering from recent wounds. A message just arrived from the military in Kabul that we just lost another service member in Southern Afghanistan.

Many of our finest will be in combat as you read these words. They will cope with their losses and continue to fight. Mostly they are very young. It is common to meet a young combat trooper who has fought for several years overseas. He doesn’t make much money. A heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way.

They have lost friends. Many of our young veterans have been wounded more than once, and yet they are out there right now. Some have more Purple Hearts than stripes. Their strength and dedication is inspirational. Their courage seems bottomless.

Tonight, many will sleep on the ground, their ears ringing from the nearby bullets and blasts that they have experienced so many times. They have killed the enemy, and watched their buddies die in their arms. They have seen and smelled and heard things that most of us rather would not. They will carry these things forever as Veterans. Tonight they will fight. We’ve already lost at least one today, yet most Americans seem to have forgotten that many of our men and women are still out there.

This is the longest war in the history of the United States. It’s far from over. I have not forgotten. I never will forget.

Thank you, Veterans.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. APX says:

    Maybe it’s the infiltration of Canadians moving to the US? Remembrance Day here, people seems to be remembering all soldiers from all wars, including the current ones going on now. We pay respect to Veterans still alive, and honor those who were also killed during the wars. This is the first time I’ve heard of Remembrance Day as a day of remembering solely WWI.

  2. jbas says:

    I think for the family of one who died in combat, it is just hard not to think of today as another memorial day. As for others, it just sounds like a sort of civic ignorance. It’s even more confusing with the feast of the patron saint of soldiers falling on this day on the Roman calendar.

  3. cdnpriest says:

    Yes, you are correct, Father. Today is called Remembrance Day in Canada (“Jour du Souvenir” in French-speaking Canada). On this day, we Canadians remember our fallen soldiers in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and in Afghanistan and other peace-keeping missions. Many Canadians wear a poppy, not just on this day, but also in the weeks preceding Remembrance Day (I am not sure if Americans wear them, but on TV I’ve never seen an American wearing one). [Last year I was in England on this day and I gladly wore one.]

    For the interested, there is a good article from the CBC here:
    It is a year old, but it still applies, of course.

    Now if only we could get the government to remember the millions of babies killed through abortion in our country and around the world every year!

  4. HoyaGirl says:

    According to the History Channel web site (, Memorial Day is to honor those who died serving our country, and Veterans Day is to honor all veterans – living and dead – who served our country. I tried looking for clarification on the Veterans Administration web site, but their site contains more of the historical legal background concerning celebration of the day.

  5. Kat says:

    I’ve have always heard that Memorial Day is the day in which we honor the dead of wars, whereas Veteran’s Day honors all veterans living or dead. The latter assertion can be backed up by Eisenhower’s proclamation ( First Veterans Day Proclamation) in which he laid out the background of the holiday (Armistice Day) and recalls that since WWI there have been “millions of veterans living and dead” added to the “honor rolls of this nation.” We reach out and thank living veterans today, but also remember those who have died. [I looked at the link to the proclamation by Pres. Eisenhower. Very helpful! Thanks!]

    There probably is confusion, but I certainly don’t feel any. I wear my poppy today, and I’m not ashamed of it.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. albinus1 says:

    Am I wrong or is Veterans Day still the day to honor the living who have served and Memorial Day the day to honor the dead?

    I’ve never heard that. Unless I’m mistaken, I think Remembrance Day in Commonwealth Countries is essentially what Memorial Day is in the US.

    I’ve always thought that one of the reasons why Veterans’/Armistice/Remembrance Day has never seemed to be as big a deal in the US as it is in Canada and other Commonwealth countries is because in the US we already had our own day to honor war dead, Memorial/Decoration Day, which is uniquely American because it has its roots in the Civil War.

    Of course, there is also the fact that the US was not involved in WWI nearly as long as Britain, Canada, and the Commonwealth Countries, and suffered proportionately fewer losses in that war; but I think that for many Americans Veterans’ Day has often felt like a “duplication” of Memorial Day.

    Perhaps the reason why Veterans’ Day in the US seems to focus on honoring living veterans rather than fallen ones is due to an effort to distinguish it from Memorial Day and therefore keep it from feeling like a duplication. But, again, my impression is that Remembrance Day in Canada is essentially equivalent to Memorial Day here.

    All his life my grandfather (b. 1898) referred to Memorial Day as Decoration Day.

  7. Kypapist says:

    You used to be able to get poppies today, outside of stores Veterans’ groups would have them with little donation boxes. St. Xavier Church in Cincinnati has a “Book of Remembrance” set up wherein you can list the deceased to be prayed for during November and throughout the year. (It used to be the Purgatorial Society.) Today I listed “All Our Veterans 11/11/11” so you know your loved and lost ones will be remembered here.

  8. As Veterans’ Day started out as a commemoration of the end of World War I, it is particularly significant that this is the first Veterans’ Day with no American Veterans of World War I. Frank Buckles, America’s last surviving WWI veteran, passed away on February 27, 2011 at the age of 110.

  9. Cantor says:

    For this reason at tomorrow’s Vigil Mass we will be singing three verses of The Navy Hymn for those in peril on the sea, on the land, and in the air.

    Eternal Father, strong to save,
    Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
    Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
    Its own appointed limits keep;
    Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
    For those in peril on the sea!

  10. buffaloknit says:

    Thank you Kat, for your helpful comment! I am originally from a ‘red state’ and am now living in a ‘blue state’ where I have observed a profound and embarrassing level of confusion about Veterans’ Day- among Americans who should know their history better or at least have some notion of good-taste. (I also attended a sister school of a military academy, but my public-school educated husband shares my basic level knowledge of civics. We could pass the US citizen ship test if we had too!)

    Fr. Z is absolutely onto something when he senses ‘confusion’ about this US civic holiday. Here is another facet to this that I might charitably call “confusing:”

    Veterans’ Day is not the second of two (Memorial Day is the other) politically incorrect US holidays to celebrate ‘baby killers’ -as I’ve heard outlined by an embarrassing number of people. This should be something both red and blue states can understand. We all should pray for the souls of people who think such things; this type of ignorance-willfull or not- is particularly bad-especially in the voting booth, among other places.

    Finally, I am jealous of the gold star that Kat got.

    Speaking of gold stars, it was only in a blue state that I observed Americans walk by and not acknowledge a gold star memorial inside an armory (post-war Memorial Unions on college campuses tend to have a ‘gold star memorial’ somewhere inside them as well-the etiquette is to remove your hat if you are a man, and perhaps end your conversation-if chatting, look at the star, bow, count to ~20 and continue on your way. Yes, I have seen folks under 30 do this correctly in the ‘red states.’ ) This is shameful. My point is this: we cannot confine our civic emotions towards veterans, their deaths and service to 1 day-or maybe 2-per year.
    I hope this comment has been education.

  11. buffaloknit says:

    Another quick post: Thank you @Cantor for sharing that beautiful hymn! I have two more tidbits to share about it as well!:

    1. I have failed to pay attention during Mass on occasion, while reading the rather large number of verses to this hymn. This is really fascinating stuff. Wikipedia mentions some verses about astronauts and submariners. I may have day-dreamed this, but is there yet another verse-not at Wikipedia-that fits ‘nuclear submariner’ into the metrical scheme?,_Strong_to_Save

    2. My mother told me of a PBS or BBC show based on a novel-I cannot recall the name of either-in which a bride to be is OUTRAGED that her soon to be husband wants to hear this song sung at their wedding. She does not recognize this hymn and is afraid of what it might be (Papist!?) Her husband tells her that he heard American enlisted men singing-liked it, and would wish to hear it sung-by God-on his wedding day. The end.

  12. ghp95134 says:

    The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) sell the poppies. Why the poppy?

    by John McCrae

    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky,
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.
    We are the dead.
    Short days ago,
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved and now we lie,
    In Flanders Fields.
    Take up our quarrel with the foe
    To you, from failing hands, we throw,
    The torch, be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us, who die,
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
    In Flanders Fields.

    I wear my poppy both on Memorial Day and “Armistice Day” in memory of all who all served during a time of war.

    –Guy Power

  13. Jacob says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gold star memorial and I live in fly over country. I’ll have to visit my local student union.

  14. bookworm says:

    “a bride to be is OUTRAGED that her soon to be husband wants to hear this song sung at their wedding.”

    My husband and I specifically requested that “Eternal Father Strong to Save” be played at our wedding (during the Offertory) because he is a Navy veteran. It wasn’t sung, just instrumental, but I think nearly everyone there recognized it.

  15. samgr says:

    Americans wear , or used to wear, poppies on Memorial Day, not Veterans-Armistice-Remembrance Day, because that’s when veterans’ groups sell, or used to sell, them. And I seem to recall “Eternal Father Strong to Save” being played as John F. Kennedy’s coffin was carried into the Capitol almost 48 years ago. Can’t be sure though; was frozen from standing in line for hours.

  16. ContraMundum says:

    “It is said that only about 1% of Americans serve in the armed forces.” I call B.S. Combining the numbers for active personnel and reserve personnel (each at about 1.5 million) is indeed about 1% of the current population of about 300 million. That ignores the fact that most of the enlisted men who will be serving in 10 years are in elementary school.

    It also ignores another group: the veterans who have already served. Kind of ironic for Veterans Day, don’t you think?

  17. Charles E Flynn says:

    The Significance of Veterans Day, by Leon R. Kass, author of “The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis”.

  18. mjd07 says:

    In the UK 11th November is generally known as Armistice Day, in reference to the end of WWI with the closest Sunday (this year 13th November) being known as Remembrance Sunday, on which day most of the parades and services of remembrance take place, Armistice day is usually observed by a two minute silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, this would normally begin with the Last Post being sounded and ended with Reveille or the shorter Rouse, if one happens to have a bugler to hand.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    In Europe, Remembrance Day is for the Dead. In America, it is for the living. I do not know why there is growing confusion about this, except a general lack of generosity towards all of our veterans.

  20. irishgirl says:

    You were in England for Remembrance Sunday last year, Father Z? My twin sister was there, too! In fact, she wasn’t that far from the Centotaph in Whitehall; she was at Westminster Abbey instead.
    Ha-small world!
    On a more serious note, when I prayed my daily Rosary on Friday, November 11 (Veterans’ Day here, Armistice /Remembrance Day in the UK), I offered the five decades in honor of:
    1) Our Lady, as the ‘Valiant Virgin’ at the foot of the Cross (Bishop Sheen called her ‘the first Gold Star Mother’!)
    2) St. Michael the Archangel, the ‘Prince of the Heavenly Host’, and patron of soldiers and paratroopers
    3) St. George, soldier, martyr and patron of England
    4) St. Martin of Tours, soldier, then Bishop (plus, his feast day falls on November 11!)
    5) St. Joan of Arc, patroness of female soldiers and of France
    My father was a World War II veteran, in the Navy (I always get goosebumps hearing ‘Eternal Father, Strong To Save’, especially if I watch YouTube videos of JFK’ funeral). His older brother, my uncle and godfather, was also a Navy veteran in the same war. My mother’s two brothers were Army World War II veterans-the older stationed in Bavaria, southern Germany, the younger seeing action at Anzio and Monte Cassino, Italy. I found out when the latter passed away this past June (strangely enough, on June 4th, the anniversary of Rome’s liberation in 1944) that before he died, he received the Bronze Star for wartime heroism: he carried a wounded officer to safety through a mine field.
    God bless and keep all our veterans!

  21. irishgirl says:

    Oops..I meant to write, ‘JFK’s funeral’…..that’s what happens when you forget to proofread before posting…sigh….

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