What's the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Memorial Day cemetery flags
A solider from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard," placed flags at grave sites during the "Flags-In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on May 22, 2014. A small U.S. flag was placed 1 foot in front of more than 220,000 graves in the cemetery to mark Memorial Day.
Jewel Samad | AFP | Getty Images 2014

If you can't tell the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, you're not alone.

Here's a primer on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and what each commemorates.

Memorial Day

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Formerly observed on May 30, this federal holiday is now celebrated on the last Monday in May.

It's designated as a day to pay tribute to those who died serving in the military — particularly service members who died in battle or from wounds sustained in battle.

The Department of Veterans Affairs describes the origins of Memorial Day:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars after World War I.

Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971 and moved it to the last Monday in May.

Veterans Day

Not Veteran's Day or Veterans' Day.

Veterans Day program
World War II veteran Don Schroedl of Minneapolis saluted during the presentation of colors at the State of Minnesota Veterans Day program at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights on Nov. 11, 2011.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2011

This federal holiday was formerly known as Armistice Day, the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

This holiday honors everyone who has served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs says this about Veterans Day:

In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served — not only those who died — have sacrificed and done their duty

During the 1970s, it was observed on the fourth Monday in October, but after some confusion, the holiday reverted to Nov. 11.