Every year on the third Saturday of May, the United States comes together to celebrate and honor our active-duty servicemembers for Armed Forces Day. This day falls toward the end of Armed Forces Week.

This holiday provides Americans the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of active-duty servicemembers in all six branches of the U.S. military, including the newly formed Space Force, as well as National Guard and Reserve components.

The history and significance of Armed Forces Day

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act, which unified the four branches of the military under the Secretary of Defense.

To honor this unification, U.S. Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day on August 31, 1949. The aim was to consolidate the then-current individual Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days, which all fell on different dates. These branches still celebrate their own days in addition to the joint observance.

In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation on the creation of the Armed Forces 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, toward 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."

This holiday differs from other military and service-related holidays, such as Memorial Day or Veterans Day, which are for honoring fallen soldiers.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsementThe appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement

How you can celebrate and Observe Armed Forces Day

If you're close to a military base, many of them host parades, open houses, festivals, parties, picnics, receptions and, in some cases, even air shows.

For instance, the city of Bremerton, in Washington State, has been hosting its Armed Forces Day Parade for more than 70 years. The city is home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Bremerton Annex of the Naval Base Kitsap. With average annual attendance of 25,000 to 40,000 spectators and participants, this parade is quite the spectacle to behold. Although this momentous event has had to be greatly scaled back due to the pandemic, its organizers are confident in returning to full force when it becomes possible.

If you're unable to travel to a military base, there are still plenty of options to observe this day.

You can:

  • Organize a "Support the Troops" bike rally — either motorcycle or bicycle — and ride around your neighborhood to raise awareness.
  • Visit a local public military display, such as a memorial or cemetery. These are good places to pay your respects, while also potentially learning some new information about a historical event and the personnel involved. Sometimes these locations will also host seminars, musical performances or ceremonies on Armed Forces Day.
  • Keep it simple and host a barbecue with family and friends, or go on a picnic. This will also provide a great opportunity to spread awareness and raise understanding of this special day that honors those who sacrifice so much.

In addition, some stores and restaurants offer discounts and special deals for servicemembers and their families on these days.