Armed Forces Day
the third Saturday in May (since 1950)
Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson on August 31st, 1949
Armed Forces Day pays tribute to those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, including those in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard, as well as those in the National Guard and Reserve. It takes place during Armed Forces Week, which begins the Saturday before the day, and during National Military Appreciation Month, which also includes holidays such as Military Spouse Appreciation Day, V-E Day, and Memorial Day.
On July 26, 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act, which brought the branches of the military under the National Military Establishment. It was renamed the Department of Defense in 1949. On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced that Armed Forces Day would replace the separate Army, Navy, and Air Force Days. This unification of the holiday was reflective of the unification of the branches that had happened under the National Security Act. President Truman issued a proclamation on February 27, 1950, calling for the first celebration to be held on May 20 of that year. He said that the day would be for paying tribute to and honoring the armed forces and that citizens should display the flag and recognize "the skill, gallantry, and uncompromising devotion to duty" of the armed forces.
The first celebration included 10,000 troops and veterans marching in Washington D.C., about 35,000 participants in a parade in New York City, other parades and air shows across the country, as well as open houses and receptions. Additionally, B-36 bombers flew over all the state capitals. It was used as a day to educate the public on jobs performed by the different military branches, to honor those in the armed forces, to show new military equipment, and to display the country's military preparedness. The years' theme was "Teamed for Defense," and there have been different themes each year since.
Presently, military installations are often open on the day, and the public can visit and observe military displays. There are parades, local celebrations, and military exercises on the day as well. "Taps" and other patriotic music is often played, children in school are taught about armed forces during the surrounding week, and "Support the Troops" motorcycle rides take place across the country.
How to Observe
Celebrate the day by honoring those who serve in the armed forces. Fly the flag and attend a parade. Thank someone in uniform for their service. Visit a military installation and observe a military display. If you are a motorcyclist, you could take part in a "Support the Troops" ride.