A closer look at Armed Forces Day

Posted On: Thursday, 17 May 2018

Prior to the establishment of U.S. Armed Forces Day, there were separate Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy days. The unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense changed all that.

It was former President Harry Truman who spearheaded the effort to establish a single holiday for honoring those who serve in any of our military branches.

On Aug. 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day.

In a presidential proclamation on Feb. 27, 1950, 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, 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.”

The theme of the first Armed Forces Day was “Teamed for Defense,” a nod to the merging of all the military forces under a single government department, according to afd.defense.gov.

In addition to combining the separate days into one, it was also created to help educate citizens about the military such as what type of jobs are performed; the role of the military in civilian life; and to show military equipment to civilians so they could see what was being used to protect them.

The very first Armed Forces Day was full of fanfare — parades, open houses, receptions, and air shows. That year, parades took place in major cities around the world, including 10,000 troops in Washington, D.C. who marched past the president and his party; 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for German citizens in Berlin; and in New York City, an estimated 33,000 participants initiated Armed Forces Day in that city, according to military.com.

To put into perspective what was going on during America’s first Armed Forces Week in 1950, some notable worldwide events include: Congress voting to extend the draft until June 24, 1952; Britain ending food rationing except for meats, butter, margarine, and cooking fat; French and West German governments planning to talk shortly on the merger of the coal and steel industries of the two countries; and Cuba celebrating the 48th anniversary of the establishment of its republic.

Recognized annually on the third Saturday in May, Armed Forces Day falls during Military Appreciation Month and also joins Memorial Day, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and Victory in Europe Day as a May military-themed holiday, according to military.com.

In modern times, the day is celebrated with parades, picnics, shopping discounts, festivals, and parties.

Is your unit doing anything in support of Armed Forces Day this year? Let us know!


July 26, 1947 – President Harry S. Truman signs the National Security Act into law, unifying four branches of the military under the Secretary of Defense.

1949 – The Department of Defense is created.

Aug. 31, 1949 – Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announces the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy holidays.

Feb. 27, 1950 – President Truman proclaims Armed Forces Day, May 20, 1950.

May 20, 1950 – Armed Forces Day is first celebrated.

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.