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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Memorial Day 2015
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Veterans Day and Memorial Day: Know the difference
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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