Armed Forces Day: A History of Recognition and

Armed Forces Day: A History of Recognition and Appreciation


Celebrating national armed forced day

May is Military Appreciation Month—a busy time of special military celebration, recognition, and remembrance. A key celebration that occurs on the third Saturday in May each year is Armed Forces Day. This year, Armed Forces Day is on May 21.

What exactly is Armed Forces Day? It is a joint celebration that honors all people currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. This includes the men and women who are serving in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and even the newly created Space Force. Also included are the National Guard and Reserve components.

The History of Armed Forces Day

Before Armed Forces Day was created, separate celebrations were held in honor of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Then in 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day to replace those separate days. This decision reflected the recent unification of the armed forces under a single agency—the Department of Defense.

In his Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Harry S. Truman stated:

“Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.”

In the beginning, Armed Forces Day was seen as an opportunity to educate civilians on the role of the military in civilian life. On this day, the military would show state-of-the-art equipment to the citizens they were protecting. It also was a day to honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States.

The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated with parades, open houses, receptions and air shows. In Washington, D.C., 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, including cadets and veterans, marched past the president. In Berlin, 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for the German citizens at Tempelhof Airfield. And in New York City, an estimated 33,000 participants initiated Armed Forces Day “under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types.”

In addition to these major celebrations, Truman asked citizens to get involved by calling on them to “display the flag of the United States at their homes on Armed Forces Day and to participate in exercises expressive of our recognition of the skill, gallantry, and uncompromising devotion to duty characteristic of the Armed Forces in the carrying out of their missions.” 

Cementing its importance to the American people, on March 18, 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared the third Saturday in May to be a national holiday.

How You Can Celebrate Armed Forces Day

Today, Armed Forces Day is celebrated in American communities and on military bases throughout the world with parades, picnics, shopping discounts, festivals and parties. If you’d like to show your appreciation, too, we offer some ideas:

  • Wear red, white and blue.
  • Fly the American flag at your home or place of business.
  • Post on social media using #ArmedForcesDay.
  • Thank an individual who serves.
  • Talk with or write to a military member.
  • Donate to veteran or military-based organizations, including the USO.
  • Send a care package to someone serving overseas.
  • Volunteer through the VA or other veterans service organizations.

Uniformed Services Benefit Association (USBA) is a not-for-profit Association that provides group life insurance, health insurance supplements, and other products and services to military personnel, Federal employees, National Guard and Reserve members, Veterans and their families.

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