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Armed Forces Day in the United States

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.

Is Armed Forces Day a Public Holiday?

Even though Armed Forces Day falls on Saturday, May 16, 2020, it is a working day. Most businesses follow regular opening hours in the United States.

US Army personnel in uniform.

©iStockphoto.com/Glynnis Jones

What Do People Do?

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.

Public Life

Traffic and parking may be affected in areas where large-scale events are held for Armed Forces Day.

Background

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.

Symbols

Posters and other material used to promote Armed Forces Day often show images of Americans in the armed services dressed in their uniforms. Some posters show a collage of images, including images of those in the armed forces with their families or friends, as well as the United States Flag.

Themes

Some themes that were used for Armed Forces Day in the past included:

  • Appreciation of a Nation
  • Dedication and Devotion
  • Freedom Through Unity
  • Liberty
  • Patriotism
  • Power for Peace
  • Prepared to Meet the Challenge
  • Security
  • Special Opportunity for Thanks
  • Teamed for Defense

These are only a few examples, and not a full list, of the Armed Forces Day themes in previous years.

Armed Forces Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2015SatMay 16Armed Forces DayObservance
2016SatMay 21Armed Forces DayObservance
2017SatMay 20Armed Forces DayObservance
2018SatMay 19Armed Forces DayObservance
2019SatMay 18Armed Forces DayObservance
2020SatMay 16Armed Forces DayObservance
2021SatMay 15Armed Forces DayObservance
2022SatMay 21Armed Forces DayObservance
2023SatMay 20Armed Forces DayObservance
2024SatMay 18Armed Forces DayObservance
2025SatMay 17Armed Forces DayObservance

We diligently research and continuously update our holiday dates and information. If you find a mistake, please let us know.

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