On This Memorial Day, Most Veterans Feel Well Appreciated

by Frank Newport

Air Force and Marines first in the hearts of Americans

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As the United States pauses this Memorial Day to honor its war dead, a new Gallup poll finds that most veterans of the armed forces feel they have been adequately thanked and appreciated for their service to their country. The number of veterans is fast dwindling, however. The poll shows that while 59% of men aged 50 and older are veterans, only 13% of men under 50 have served in the armed forces. Just 3% of women are veterans. The poll also reveals interesting variation in the reputation of the armed services. The Marines are the branch of the United States armed forces with the most status and prestige, while the Air Force is considered to be the most important branch to the nation's defense.

The Veteran Population Ages

Sixteen percent of Americans aged 18 and older say that they personally are veterans of the armed forces. Not surprisingly, veteran status skews almost entirely male: 30% of men are veterans compared to just 3% of women.

The biggest distinction in veteran status is by age, reflecting the dates of major wars in U.S. history during the past century, and also changes in the system of universal military conscription. There were four major wars in the past century, each of which swelled the veteran population, but the last of these -- the Vietnam conflict -- ended more than a quarter century ago. The first major war of the century, World War I, occurred more than 80 years ago, and recent estimates are that only a handful of veterans of that war remain alive today. By far the largest single mobilization of Americans into the military (around 16 million) came with World War II, between 1941 and 1945, but this once huge veteran pool is shrinking. World War II veterans still living are for the most part today in their 70s and older. Those serving in the Korean War are now at least in their 60s. Finally, most of those mobilized for the Vietnam War between 1964 and the early 1970s are now 50 or older, at the upper end of the baby boomer age range.

The draft ended in the early 1970s, which means that few Americans now under 50 were subject to involuntary conscription. Thus, all in all, it is no surprise to find that while a very significant 59% of men 50 and older are veterans, only 13% of men under 50 are veterans. (There is no difference in veteran status by age of women, reflecting the balance between the very large size of the armed forces in previous years and the increasing integration of women into the much smaller armed forces in more recent years.)

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is set aside to honor those who have died in the service of their country, and parades around the nation also honor those still living who have served in the armed forces. Among these living veterans, 73% say they feel they have received the "respect and thanks" they deserve for serving their country. Twenty-four percent say they have not.

Comparisons Among the Military Branches

Although all of the combat branches of the armed forces that are part of the Department of Defense -- The Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy -- serve one country, there has been historically and continues to be a great deal of rivalry and competition among them. The branches compete not only for recruits and for Defense Department funding, but also for critical assignments and roles in the nation's defense.

The recent Gallup poll asked Americans which of the four branches they perceive to be most important to the nation's defense, and which they perceive to have the most status and prestige. Overall, 42% of Americans say the Air Force is the most important service branch to the nation's defense, while only 18% or less each cite the Army, Navy and Marines. Interestingly, the Air Force has long held this position of perceived importance in the eyes of the American public. Gallup polls conducted as long ago as the 1950s show that when given a choice, Americans have said the Air Force should receive more military appropriations than the other branches.

The Air Force loses out to the Marines when it comes to prestige, however. Asked which of the four branches is "the most prestigious and has the most status in our society today," 36% of Americans say the Marines, just slightly ahead of the Air Force, selected by 32%. Only 14% say the Navy, while 11% choose the Army.

Memorial Day Activities

What is it that Americans plan to do this Memorial Day? A Gallup poll last year suggested that the favorite activity is just hanging around the house, followed by attending a picnic or barbecue. Thirty percent of Americans said they would be visiting a veteran's grave or a veterans' cemetery, and 21% said they were going to a Memorial Day parade.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 18-20, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Are you personally a veteran of the armed forces?

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2001 May 18-20

16%

84

*



 

Would you say you have or have not received the respect and thanks you deserve for serving in the Armed Forces?

BASED ON -- 169 -- VETERANS OF ARMED FORCES; ±8 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Yes, have received

No, not

No opinion

       

2001 May 18-20

73%

24

3



 

 

Just off the top of your head, which of the four major branches of the Armed Forces in this country would you say is the most prestigious and has the most status in our society today -- [ROTATED: the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, (or) the Marines]?

BASED ON -- 481 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

 


Air Force


Army


Navy


Marines

ALL SAME (vol.)

No
opinion

             

2001 May 18-20

32%

11

14

36

4

3



 

Just off the top of your head, which of the four major branches of the Armed Forces in this country would you say is the most important to our national defense today-- [ROTATED: the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, (or) the Marines]?

BASED ON -- 529 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 


Air Force


Army


Navy


Marines

ALL SAME (vol.)

No
opinion

             

2001 May 18-20

42%

18

15

14

9

2



* Less than 0.5%
(vol.) Volunteered response

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