The US Department of Veterans Affairs website has this to say about the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day:
Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime. 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.
I would add another way in which Veterans Day is not Memorial Day: Living Veterans continue to serve our country even after they retire from duty, bringing their attitude and experience of dedicated service into their communities, into their jobs, into their families. America becomes a stronger nation when a veteran serves in elected office, when a veteran runs a corporation, when a veteran raises children, with a model of dedicated service.
So in a sense, to me, Memorial Day is the American equivalent of Pesach, a day to remember America's nation-shaping history, while Veterans Day is the American equivalent of Shavuot, a day to mark that which shapes our nation every day.
More: Veterans serve not only actively, but also passively, providing a visual reminder of what it means to risk your own for the sake of others.
Seeing a Veteran license plate or bumper sticker on the road reminds me of what they have given me, and makes me more thoughtful. Seeing a veteran wearing a military cap or fatigues makes me contemplate what it has taken, and what it continues to take, to keep this country free. (Lest anyone make the Bushian error of thinking that democracy is man’s natural state, look at the number of wars fought - as well as avoided - in the 20th century alone for the survival of this system of government. Our veterans have played a major role in guaranteeing these freedoms for each generation.)
This is an international phenomenon. Off and on over the years, our shul has honored American veterans on the Shabbos before Veterans Day, and each time our Russian contingent has been sure to remind us of the Russian version of Veterans Day. Countries may have unique ideals, but we share an emphasis on sovereignty, and gratitude toward those who have guaranteed that sovereignty.
I don’t have any red poppies to wear, but in the spirit of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s gratitude toward the USA, I salute the men and women – living and deceased - who guaranteed, and who continue to guarantee, the continued sovereignty of the USA.