STANDING TALL – Official poster for Armed Forces Day highlights the “Defenders of Freedom”, 1951. Photo Credit: Department of Defense
President Harry S. Truman addresses guests at the first Armed Forces Day dinner in Washington, D.C. His proclamation replaced separate celebrations by the Armed Services, 1950. Photo Credit: Department of Defense
On July 26, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 which consolidated the military branches under the Department of Defense’s control. In late August 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of a new holiday – Armed Forces Day – that would take part every third Saturday in May.
The goal of Armed Forces Day was to have a day that would honor those who served and were serving in all branches of the military. Previously, the Army, Navy, and Air Force all had their own, individual, holidays. By combining all of them under one holiday, the Department of Defense wanted to unify the armed forces by celebrating in a joint holiday. The military branches were asked to drop their own days and support Armed Forces Day – all of them did except for the Marine Corps League and the U.S. Coast Guard (while they do support Armed Forces Day, they still kept own holidays).
President Truman also supported the creation and implementation of Armed Forces Day. In his February 27, 1950 President Proclamation, 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.”
What did they do on the first Armed Forces Day? According to the Department of Defense:
The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions, and air shows. In Washington D.C., 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, cadets, and veterans marched past the President and his party. In Berlin, 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for the German citizens at Templehof Airfield. In New York City, an estimated 33,000 participants initiated Armed Forces Day “under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types.” In the harbors across the country were the famed mothballed “battlewagons” of World War II, the Missouri, the New Jersey, the North Carolina, and the Iowa, all open for public inspection. Precision flying teams dominated the skies as tracking radar were exhibited on the ground. All across the country, the American people joined together to honor the Armed Forces.
Peering at Controls – Future pilots check out the controls of a jet during an open house at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, 1956. Photo Credit: Department of Defense