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5 facts about the U.S. military

Men dressed in uniforms depicting the U.S. military through the ages march in a parade in Colorado Springs, CO, in 2013.

To help mark National Military Appreciation Month in May, here are five facts about the U.S. armed forces.

1. The military is big — and getting bigger. The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard are the armed forces of the United States, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The Army National Guard and the Air National Guard are reserve components of their services and operate in part under state authority. The Space Force was established in 2019 as a military service that “organizes, trains and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.”

2. Thirty-one of the 45 men who’ve served as president of the United States have served in the military. The 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. Among the presidents who served, only one — James Buchanan, the 15th president — never became an officer. The last president with military combat experience was George H.W. Bush, who was a World War II hero.

3. The military has produced lots of famous faces. Johnny Cash and Morgan Freeman served as airmen in the Air Force, while Jimmy Stewart rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. Meanwhile, several celebrities have received the title of “honorary” Marine, including Brig. Gen. Bob Hope, Master Sgt. Bugs Bunny and Cpl. Jim Nabors, star of “Gomer Pyle: USMC.”

4. Memorial Day was first widely observed in 1868. For many years, the commemoration, known as Decoration Day, honored fallen soldiers from the Civil War. Congress made Memorial Day a national holiday in 1887. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor service members who died in all American wars. In 1968, Congress changed the annual observance from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

5. The Postal Service is one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans. The USPS workforce includes more than 100,000 military veterans, who make up 16 percent of all employees nationally. Veterans account for just 5.8 percent of all employed Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.

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