Celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May, Armed Forces Day is President Harry S. Truman’s gift to the US Military. Wanting to establish a day when American citizens could come together, President Truman directed the endeavor to establish a single holiday to thank and honor those who have served or are serving in America’s military. Armed Forces Day is the finale of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May.
Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced on August 31, 1949, the creation of an Armed Forces Day. This day now replaced the separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days, in accordance with the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense.
Prior to Secretary Johnson’s announcement, a request was made for each of the military leagues and orders to drop the sponsorship of its specific service day, and instead celebrate the newly announced Armed Forces Day. The leagues for the Army, Navy and Air Force did so. The Marine Corps League, on the other hand, declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day, but does support Armed Forces Day as well.
“Teamed for Defense” served as the theme of the first Armed Forces Day. This was chosen in an effort to express the fusion of the various military branches into one department of the government. Other purposes were also part of Armed Forces Day. It serves as an educational program for civilians, in an effort to increase their awareness of the Armed Forces. It also helps to expand the public’s understanding of the role of the military in civilian life. Armed Forces Day is a day for the military to demonstrate to the American citizens the “state-of-the-art” equipment they use to protect the nation. Finally, it is a day to honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States.
All across the country, the American people joined together to honor the first Armed Forces Day with parades, open houses, receptions, and air shows. 10,000 troops from all branches of the military, cadets, and veterans marched In Washington D.C., past President Truman and those with him. 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for the German citizens at Templehof Airfield in Berlin and in New York City, Armed Forces Day was initiated with an estimated 33,000 participants under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types. Famous mothballed “battlewagons” of World War II, the Missouri, the New Jersey, the North Carolina, and the Iowa, located in harbors across the country, were opened for public inspection. Precision flying teams dominated the skies as tracking radar was exhibited on the ground.
In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Mr. 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.
According to a New York Times article published on May 17, 1952:
“This is the day on which we have the welcome opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces … to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world. Armed Forces Day won’t be a matter of parades and receptions for a good many of them. They will all be in line of duty and some of them may give their lives in that duty.”