Saturday, May 18, is Armed Forces Day, a day to honor and celebrate our military personnel. What a great idea!

President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single day for citizens to express appreciation to military personnel for their patriotic service in defense of our country. In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Mr. 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.”

“Teamed for Defense” was the theme for the first Armed Forces Day. Chosen as a means of expressing the unification of all the military forces under a single department of the government, there were several purposes for holding Armed Forces Day. A type of “educational program for civilians,” it was designed to develop public awareness of the role of the military in civilian life. Armed Forces Day was also a day to honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States. Themes from previous years, which were very fitting, were “Appreciation of a Nation” and “Special Opportunity for Thanks.”

The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated with parades, receptions and air shows. 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, cadets and veterans marched past the president and his party in Washington D.C. 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for the German citizens at Templehof Airfield, Berlin. An estimated 33,000 participants initiated Armed Forces Day under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types in New York City.

In harbors across the country, the famed “battlewagons” of World War II, the USS Missouri, USS New Jersey, USS North Carolina and USS Iowa, were opened for public inspection. Precision flying teams dominated the skies. The American people joined together to honor the Armed Forces.

The nation’s leaders gathered with the citizens to honor the Armed Forces. Some of the more prominent of these leaders’ quotes are stated below:

“It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953

“Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard.” — President John F. Kennedy, 1962

“Our servicemen and women are serving throughout the world as guardians of peace, many of them away from their homes, their friends and their families. They are visible evidence of our determination to meet any threat to the peace with measured strength and high resolve. They are also evidence of a harsh but inescapable truth — that the survival of freedom requires great cost and commitment, and great personal sacrifice.” — President John F. Kennedy, 1963.

Do not confuse Armed Forces Day with Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Observed annually on Nov. 11, Veterans Day honors those who formerly served in the military but are no longer on active duty. Observed the last Monday of May, Memorial Day is when we remember those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Appreciation of a nation, for its active duty military personnel, is exceedingly appropriate. If you see someone wearing a baseball cap or a shirt with military insignia or American Legion insignia, shake hands with him or her and say, “Thank you for your service!”

To all active duty Armed Forces personnel, thank you for your service!

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, a writer, avid cyclist, history enthusiast and ardent reader of Southern fiction. Readers may email her at pamterrellwalker