Veterans Day and Memorial Day: Know the difference

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Soldiers Place Flags at Arlington National Cemetery

As we prepare to honor those who have served, make sure that you understand the difference between two very different, yet often confused, holidays: Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the last Monday in May each year. And while typically, many Americans thank all veterans on Memorial Day, this is not how the holiday is meant to be observed. Originally called Decoration Day, after the Civil War, Memorial Day is meant to honor and remember those who have given their lives in service to our country, particularly those who died in battle. Some people wear poppies to honor our fallen troops, a tradition that was taken from the poem In Flanders Fields.

Veterans Day is November 11th, and was originally called Armistice Day, due to the armistice declared during World War I between Germany and the allied nations on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Armistice Day was originally declared a holiday to honor those who died fighting the Great War. But after World War II, it was proposed that the holiday be expanded to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. In 1954, Armistice Day was officially changed to Veterans Day. It is now a holiday to honor all those who served, regardless of whether they served in wartime or peacetime. Veterans Day is intended to celebrate living veterans, not those who have died, and to thank them for their honorable service.

RELATED: See photos from last year's Memorial Day celebrations:

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Veterans Day and Memorial Day: Know the difference
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, left, Commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, and the with the aid of Sgt. 1st Class John C. Wirth, lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks during a Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 25, 2015. Playing just below Obama in the Memorial Amphitheater are members of The President's Own, United States Marine Band. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks during Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama (R), Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (C) and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey (L) attend Memorial Day ceremonies on May 25, 2015 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during Memorial Day ceremonies on May 25, 2015 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, center accompanied by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, left, Commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, and Sgt. 1st Class John C. Wirth, right, pauses during the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 25: A member of the honor guard stands as the motorcade carrying U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery May 25, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored fallen soldiers at Arlington on this Memorial Day. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
Vickie Hunt sits next to the grave of her late husband, Vietnam veteran Cpl. Timothy Hunt, at Georgia National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Canton, Ga. "I come every Memorial Day," says Hunt. "As soon as I go through the gates here it brings me a sense of peace." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The message "Miss You" is written on a planter as it sits on the grave of U.S. Air Force veteran Chief Master Sgt. James Ersery at Georgia National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Canton, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Iraq War veteran, Ret. Pvt. Rocky Bishop, left, walks through Georgia National Cemetery with his daughter Cyndney, 6, while visiting the grave of his grandfather, Korean War veteran James Bishop, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Canton, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Flags are carried into the Memorial Amphitheater prior to the start of the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday May 25, 2015, where President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Marine Tim Chamber and Army Eric Cantu salutes as motorcycles drive past during the annual Rolling Thunder parade ahead of Memorial Day in Washington, Sunday, May 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Navy veteran William Englert passes out U.S. flags to the crowd attending Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday May 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder annual motorcycle rally ride past Arlington memorial bridge during the parade ahead of Memorial Day in Washington, Sunday, May 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Lucille Williams walks through Georgia National Cemetery while visiting the grave of her late husband, Korean War veteran Sgt. 1st Class Alvin Williams, in honor of Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Canton, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Ray Orphan, left, followed by Michael Worcester, holds a tradition Chickasaw Nation Eagle Staff, as part of the Chickasaw Nation Honor Guard ahead of a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday May 25, 2015. The Chickasaw Nation, located in south central Oklahoma, has veterans representing the different branches of the U.S. military in their honor guard. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama speaks in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 25, 2015, during a Memorial Day ceremony. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sandra Bacchus of Coram, N.Y., second from right, and others, attends a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.,, Monday, May 25, 2015, with, from far left, her husband Michael Bacchus, and their grandsons Darren Marchong, 9, and Donovan Jones, 8. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Army veteran Bernie Klemanek, of Mineral, Va., stops to salute his fallen comrades on Memorial Day during an early morning visit to "The Wall" at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, Monday, May 25, 2015. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder annual motorcycle rally ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge during the annual Rolling Thunder parade ahead of Memorial Day in Washington, Sunday, May 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
People wave as the Rolling Thunder annual motorcycle rally ride passes by during the annual Rolling Thunder parade ahead of Memorial Day in Washington, Sunday, May 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
General John F. Campbell, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, second right, gives respect during a ceremony marking Memorial Day at the Resolute Support main headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, May 25, 2015. Over 2,300 American soldiers and more than 11,00 coalition soldiers have lost their lives in action during the last 14 years in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
Jonathan Hunt visits the grave of his father, Vietnam veteran Cpt. Harvey Hunt, at Georgia National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Canton, Ga. "This is the quietest time," said Hunt of the early morning. "It's very encouraging for you to come. It makes it easy, it makes it cathartic." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Tom Nicholson of Gretna, Neb. visits graves at Arlington National Ceremony in Arlington, Va., Monday,May 25, 2015, ahead of a Memorial Day ceremonies. Nicholson's son, Marine Captain Kevin Nicholson, died serving in Afghanistan in 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Veteran Zalman Greenberg, 90, of North Miami Beach, listens during a Memorial Day event, Monday, May 25, 2015, in North Miami Beach, Fla. Greenberg, who is Russian, fought with Russia against Germanty in World War II. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
The Rev. Edward Hernandez bows his head during a Memorial Day event, Monday, May 25, 2015, in North Miami Beach, Fla. Hernandez served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Air Force. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Sandra Bacchus of Coram, N.Y., listens as President Barack Obama speaks in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 25, 2015, during a Memorial Day ceremony. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Robert Ritchie, left, and Nigel MacDonald, right, march with the St. Andrews Pipe Band of Miami during a Memorial Day event, Monday, May 25, 2015, in North Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Participants stand at attention during the opening ceremonies before a Memorial Day parade in the Glenwood neighborhood of New York, Monday, May 25, 2015. President Barack Obama saluted Americans who died in battle Monday, noting the first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces involved in a major ground war. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Rocco Struncius salutes as soldiers walk by during a Memorial Day parade in the Glenwood neighborhood of New York, Monday, May 25, 2015. President Barack Obama saluted Americans who died in battle Monday, noting the first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces involved in a major ground war. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Participants wait for the start of a Memorial Day parade in the Glenwood neighborhood of New York, Monday, May 25, 2015. President Barack Obama saluted Americans who died in battle Monday, noting the first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces involved in a major ground war. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Members of the Ladies Living History Society attend a Memorial Day ceremony in honor of soldiers who died in the Civil War, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. The cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of fallen Civil War soldiers. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
People pause during the playing of the national anthem during a Memorial Day parade and ceremonies Monday, May 25, 2015, in Frenchtown, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Members of the Sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry reenactors group fire a 21-gun salute during a Memorial Day ceremony to honor soldiers who died in the Civil War, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. The cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Members of the Sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry reenactors group bow their heads during a prayer at a Memorial Day ceremony in honor of soldiers who died in the Civil War, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. The cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Judy Biedenharn walks among gravestones marked with American flags while wearing period attire following a Memorial Day ceremony in honor of soldiers who died in the Civil War, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Medal of Honor recipients Major Gen. Patrick Brady, left, and Bennie Adkins, right, stand up during the Annual Memorial Day Observance at Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington, Monday, May 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Scott visits the grave of his friend, Army Sgt. Michael Gonzalez, who was killed in Iraq in 2008, on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 25, 2015. Scott has visited Gonzalez's grave every year since 2008. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Peter Sturvedant, dressed in Civil War era attire, prepares to play taps during a Memorial Day ceremony in honor of soldiers who died in the Civil War, Monday, May 25, 2015, at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. The cemetery is the final resting place of around 6,000 soldiers. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Ester Grod puts her hand on her husband's gravestone at the Leavenworth National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Leavenworth, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Mary Vanderpool pauses at her parents' grave at the Leavenworth National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Leavenworth, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Attendees sing the national anthem during a Memorial Day remembrance ceremony at Ft. Logan National Cemetery, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Visitors gather in Section 60, where many of the soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015. Americans observe Memorial Day this weekend to remember the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Visitors to Arlington National Cemetery carry roses to lay on the headstones of those who served, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2015, in Arlington, Va. Americans observe Memorial Day this weekend to remember the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 25: People visit loved ones who have died serving in the armed forces at Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2015 in Arlington, Va. U.S. President Barack Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored fallen soldiers during a ceremony at Arlington on this Memorial Day. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 25: Angela Spraul and her daughter Ava, 4, sit at the grave of her husband John Spraul, U.S. Navy, who died Feb. 28, 2013, at Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2015 in Arlington, Va. U.S. President Barack Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored fallen soldiers during a ceremony at Arlington on this Memorial Day. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 25: Katie Palmer, from New Born, North Carolina sits at the grave of her father, James Palmer, Marine Corps, who died May 12, 2011, at Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2015 in Arlington, Va. U.S. President Barack Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored fallen soldiers during a ceremony at Arlington on this Memorial Day. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 25: A mother and daughter stand in Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2015 in Arlington, Va. U.S. President Barack Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored fallen soldiers during a ceremony at Arlington on this Memorial Day. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
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