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The History of Veterans Day

 

 

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Oct. 11, 1954

On March 15, 2011, following a ceremony in which his coffin lay in state in Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, former Army Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buckles was buried with full military honors. The last living American veteran from World War I had died at 110 years old.

Though Wilson intended Armistice Day to be a one-time-only observance, many states, with the endorsement of veterans organizations, chose to make Armistice Day an annual event.

Veterans Day is one of two federal holidays specifically designated to honor the men and women of our nation who served in uniform. Memorial Day, whose origins reach back to the Civil War, honors the fallen. Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day and only honored both the living and dead from World War I. In 1954, legislation was signed changing its name to Veterans Day and to honor all veterans living and dead.

Originally World War I was called the Great War. Its consequences had been so horrific and devastating that world leaders called it “the war to end all wars” because they were certain a conflict of such magnitude could not happen again. Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe in the final months of the war, was not among them. Referring to the Versailles Treaty signed on June 28, 1919, that ended the Great War, he declared, “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” Ignored at the time, his prediction would prove startlingly accurate.

But government leaders in 1919 focused their thoughts on a more immediate date, the upcoming first anniversary of the signing of the armistice that had silenced the guns “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918. Though in poor health as a result of a stroke suffered in early October, on Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued a 291-word proclamation calling upon the American people to celebrate the cause of freedom for which American troops had fought. His proclamation stated, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

 Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. He is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War. ArmsticeDay, established to honor those like Ambrose who fought in World War I, became Veterans Day in 1954, honoring all those who have served. Mickey Sanborn

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. He is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War. ArmsticeDay, established to honor those like Ambrose who fought in World War I, became Veterans Day in 1954, honoring all those who have served. Mickey Sanborn

Wilson suggested that citizens hold parades and that companies have “a brief suspension of business” at 11:00 a.m., which many across the country did, stopping work for two minutes. Though Wilson intended Armistice Day to be a one-time-only observance, many states, with the endorsement of veterans organizations, chose to make Armistice Day an annual event.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...