Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans. However, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, most Americans confuse this holiday with Memorial Day.
What’s more, some Americans don’t know why we commemorate our veterans on Nov. 11. Here’s a bit of the history of Veterans Day so that we can honor our former and current service members properly.
Most Americans confuse this holiday with Memorial Day.
What we now know as Veterans Day began as a simple proclamation recognizing the end of World War I – the Great War as it was known at the time – which officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France.
However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of World War I, called hopefully then, “the war to end all wars.” Some 17 million had been killed directly by the war, 10 million of them military personnel. More than 20 million were wounded, crippled, or blinded, and in the aftermath, the Spanish flu killed another 50 to 100 million, between 3 and 6 percent of the entire population of the Earth.
In legislation that was passed in 1938, Nov. 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’” As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans.
In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress – at the urging of the veterans service organizations – amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
In 1968, the Uniforms Holiday Bill ensured three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the last Monday of October. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971.
Finally on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on Nov. 11.
Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Fast forward to Nov. 11, 2011.
In Arlington, Va., President Barack Obama today observed Veterans Day in remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.
He spoke on a chilly autumn morning to an audience of veterans and dignitaries in the cemetery’s amphitheater shortly after placing a floral wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Then he stood with a hand over his heart as a bugler played “Taps.” A bell tolled and flags fluttered.
Veterans and servicemen and women: Thank you for your service.