The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

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The Difference Between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

So there's a difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day — and a look at social media suggests some people don't know it.

CNN tweeted out a challenge for people not to "embarrass" themselves by confusing the two. It was retweeted thousands of times.

So what is the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

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The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day
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)
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)
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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First of all, the May holiday is an older one.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1868, just three years after the Civil War ended.

An organization of Union veterans wanted to set aside a day to decorate the graves of the military deceased with flowers. It's believed the major general in charge put the date at the end of May so "flowers would be in bloom all over the country."

After the massive casualties of World War I, however, the holiday was extended to honor all military members who died in American wars.

Interestingly, World War I is also where the story of Veterans Day begins.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, when on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" there was a provisional termination of hostilities between the Allies and Germany.

Armistice Day continued to be celebrated "with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m." until yet another war forced politicians to recalibrate the holiday.

World War II required the largest mobilization of military forces in the nation's history, involving tens of millions of American volunteers and draftees.

After WWII ended, the 83rd Congress struck out the word "Armistice" from Armistice Day and replaced it with "Veterans" in order to include the men and women who served in WWII and forever incorporating any person who serves or has served in the U.S. military.

Thus Veterans Day commemorates all servicemen and women of American wars, and Memorial Day honors fallen military members of all American wars.

This video includes images from Getty Images and the Library of Congress.

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