This blog posts annually about Veterans Day, so it seems appropriate to mention the day for those currently serving. It's actually a full week, beginning the second Saturday in May and ending the third Sunday in May, with Armed Forces Day itself the third Saturday in May.
Originally, each branch of the military held its own day, and weren't branches of a unified military either. After World War Two, the US armed forces were unified in a new, single branch of government, the Department of Defense. Armed Forces Day was created to reflect that change, which was announced on 31 August 1949 and celebrated for the first time on 20 May 1950.
Some information on the original separate days will help toward one of the goals of Armed Forces Day, a better understanding by the general public of the armed forces.
Army Day. 6 April. The first Army Day was 1 May 1928. The day was chosen to offset the Communist Worker's Day also on 1 May. The next year it was changed to 6 April, the date of the US entry into World War One, and stayed there. The military history of the United States begins with colonial militias of citizen-soldiers originally working with the British military, which later became state militias and since 1903 the National Guard, with some units on state status and some also reserve units of the United States Army. The Army itself began on 14 June 1775, when the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army. It disbanded in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War, and was re-created by Congress as the United States Army on 14 June 1784.
Navy Day. 27 October. First celebrated in 1922. 27 October was chosen because it is both the birth date of Theodore Roosevelt, who was a very strong voice as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the date in 1775 when a committee of the Continental Congress issued a report to begin a navy with the purchase of ships from merchant lines. The Navy considers 13 October 1775, the date of the Continental Congress resolution to form that committee, its inception, though there was no naval force after the Revolutionary War other than the Revenue Cutter Service, now the Coast Guard, until 1794 when, to defend against pirates, Congress mandated building six frigates. They were launched in 1797, one of which, the USS Constitution, is still a frigate in the United States Navy.
Air Force Day. 1 August. This day was established in 1947 when the Air Force was still part of the Army, as the recently concluded world war had demonstrated air as an essential frontier to be protected. The date comes from the date of the establishment of the first unit of what would become the Air Force, the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, in 1907. The Air Force became a separate branch on 18 September 1947.
Marine Corps Day. 10 November. The Marine Corps was established by Congress on 11 July 1798 to serve under the Department of the Navy. Marine Corps Day was celebrated on 11 July by the Corps from its first birthday in 1799 until 1921. The date was changed in 1921 to 10 November to reflect the original establishment of the Marine Corps on 10 November 1775 to assist the navy during the Revolutionary War, after which the Corps was disbanded. The Marine Corps still observes this day, while participating in Armed Forces Day as well.
Coast Guard Day. 4 August. On that day in 1790 the Treasury Department under Alexander Hamilton established the Revenue Cutter Service, to enforce the first US tariff laws. The Revenue Cutter Service has been in service ever since, becoming the Coast Guard on its merger with the Lifesaving Service in 1915. The day is still observed in the Coast Guard, which also participates in Armed Forces Day. The Coast Guard is unique among the military's five armed services in that it is both military and law enforcement; in 1967 it was transferred from Treasury to the then new Department of Transportation, then on 25 February 2003 it was transferred again to then recently created Department of Homeland Security, but as before in wartime at the direction of the President or Congress it can be transferred to the Navy under the Department of Defense.
What's this got to do with the Lutheran faith? Among the many other benefits, our armed forces have secured a country where we are free to form our congregations and church bodies, and not, unlike the countries from which many of our ancestors came, have to fight over what will be the church funded by the state or fight to be allowed to be part of the state church.
President Truman's Proclamation of the first Armed Forces Day states a goal that has become more telling as the years have passed:
"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."
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