Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday of May. Armed Forces Week begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May, the day after Armed Forces Day.
It Has Been Said
"...Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard."
"Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed."
--- President John F. Kennedy, 1962
From Our History
On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department -- the Department of Defense. Each of the branches were asked to drop sponsorship of its own specific service day in order to celebrate the newly announced Armed Forces Day. The Army, Navy and Air Force adopted the newly formed day. The Marine Corps declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day, too.
In a speech announcing the formation of the day, President Truman said, "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."
The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions, and air shows. In Washington D.C., 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, cadets, and veterans marched pass the President and his party. In Berlin, 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for the German citizens at Templehof Airfield. 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 the harbors across the country were the famed mothballed "battlewagons" of World War II, the Missouri, the New Jersey, the North Carolina, and the Iowa, all open for public inspection. Precision flying teams dominated the skies as tracking radar were exhibited on the ground. All across the country, the American people joined together to honor the Armed Forces.
In Other Days Gone By
-- Army Day can be traced back to a little-known Defense Test Day, which was observed only twice: once in 1924 and once in 1925. Congress then disallowed any further observances of this day. In response, the Military Order of the World War under Colonel Thatcher Luquer established Army Day. Army Day was first celebrated on May 1, 1928. That date was chosen in hopes of dampening Communists' celebration of Workers' Day, which also occurs on May 1. But, starting in 1929, Army Day was changed to April 6, the anniversary date of the United States' entry into World War I. Army Day was established as a nationwide observance to draw public attention to national defense and to acquaint the public with Army activities. In addition, the day was used to stress the need for military preparedness, which the nation had lacked as it entered earlier major conflicts. "The failure to make adequate preparation for the inevitable struggle, the consequent suffering from disease and death entailed upon the armies which were hastily raised, the prolongation of the conflict far beyond the time which sufficient and equipped forces would have required for victory, and the heavy costs of reconstruction" were caused by the lack of preparation of the nation. On April 4, 1936, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation that Army Day be recognized by Congress as April 6 and observed nationwide. On March 1, 1937, Congress passed Resolution #5-75 which officially recognized Army Day. Army Day was "last" observed nationally on April 6, 1949.
-- Navy Day was established on October 27, 1922 by the Navy League of the United States. Although it was not a national holiday, Navy Day received special attention from President Warren Harding. Harding wrote to the Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby: "Thank you for your note which brings assurance of the notable success which seems certain to attend the celebration of Navy Day on Friday, October 27, in commemoration of past and present services of the Navy. From our earliest national beginnings the Navy has always been, and deserved to be, an object of special pride to the American people. Its record is indeed one to inspire such sentiments, and I am very sure that such a commemoration as is planned will be a timely reminder." "It is well for us to have in mind that under a program of lessening naval armaments there is a greater reason for maintaining the highest efficiency, fitness and morale in this branch of the national defensive service. I know how earnestly the Navy personnel are devoted to this idea and want you to be assured of my hearty concurrence." October 27 was suggested by the Navy League to recognize Theodore Roosevelt's birthday. Roosevelt had been an Assistant Secretary of the Navy and supported a strong Navy as well as the idea of Navy Day. In addition, October 27 was the anniversary of a 1775 report issued by a special committee of the Continental Congress favoring the purchase of merchant ships as the foundation of an American Navy. Navy Day was "last" observed on Oct. 27, 1949.
Air Force Day
-- Air Force Day was established on August 1, 1947, by President Truman "in recognition of the personnel of the victorious Army Air Forces and all those who have developed and maintained our nation's air strength." August 1 was chosen to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment, in 1907, of the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army. Air Force Day came into being immediately after the signing of the National Security Act of 1947, although the status of the air element of the military was uncertain. Thus, although it was called Air Force Day, its first celebration was staged by the Army Air Forces and not by the U.S. Air Force. Underlying the Air Force Day celebration was a need to increase "both official and public awareness of the priority of importance of air forces in any system of national security," according to Mr. Truman. "The great strategic fact of our generation is that the United States now possesses live frontiers -- the frontiers of the air -- and that the oceans are no longer sure ramparts against attack." In his message to the nation on the first Air Force Day, Mr. Truman said, "I remind all of our citizens that the air power of the nation is essential to the preservation of our liberty, and that the continued development of the science of air transportation is vital to the trade and commerce of a peaceful world." Air Force Day was "last" observed on August 1, 1949.
Marine Corps Day (Marine Corps Birthday)
-- The United States Marine Corps was established on November 10, 1775, to augment naval forces in the Revolutionary War. The recruiting headquarters was set up by Capt. Samuel Nicholas in the Tun Tavern on Water Street in Philadelphia, which is considered to be the birthplace of the Marines. After success in many campaigns, the Corps was abolished at the close of the Revolutionary War for reasons of economy. On July 11, 1798, Congress ordered the creation of the Corps, named it the United States Marine Corps and directed that it be available for service under the Secretary of the Navy. The Corps celebrated its birthday, or Marine Corps Day, on July 11 from 1799 until 1921 when the date was permanently changed to November 10 to commemorate the establishment of the Corps to aid in the Revolutionary War. The day is still observed by U. S. Marines worldwide. Special exhibits, parades, drill team performances, and speeches typically mark the occasion. The Birthday Ball, which culminates in the cutting of the birthday cake, is held that evening in Washington, D.C. It is not possible to determine precisely when the first cake ceremony was held, but the first on record took place at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., in 1937. Major General Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant, presided at an open house for Marine Corps officers, including the cutting of a huge cake in the shape of Tun Tavern.
Coast Guard Day
-- August 4 is celebrated as Coast Guard Day to honor the establishment on that day in 1790 of the Revenue Cutter Service, forebear of today's Coast Guard, by the Treasury Department. On that date, Congress, guided by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, authorized the building of a fleet of ten cutters, whose responsibility would be enforcement of the first tariff laws enacted by Congress under the Constitution. The Coast Guard has been continuously at sea since its inception, although the name Coast Guard didn't come about until 1915 when the Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the Lifesaving Service. The Lighthouse Service joined the Coast Guard in 1939, followed in 1946 by the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection. Finally, in 1967, after 177 years in the Treasury Department, the Coast Guard was transferred to the newly formed Department of Transportation. Coast Guard Day is primarily an internal activity for active duty Coast Guard personnel, civilian members, reservists, retirees, auxiliarists, and dependents, but it does have a significant share of interest outside the Service. Grand Haven, Michigan, also known as Coast Guard City, USA, annually sponsors the Coast Guard Festival around August 4. Typically it is the largest community celebration of a branch of the Armed Forces in the nation. In addition to celebrating their own day every year, Coast Guard members also participate as equal partners in Armed Forces Day activities.
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt