On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, armistice began. World War I, The “Great War,” the war between the Entente Powers (the Allies) and the Central Powers (led by Germany) had finally come to an end. The next year, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11, 1919, to be Armistice Day. His proclamation began, “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….”
In addition to parades and public meetings, the day was also marked with a two-minute suspension of business beginning at 11 AM.
The following year, France and the United Kingdom also marked November 11th with tributes to the fallen from WWI. In 1921, Congress declared November 11, 1921 a legal federal holiday to honor all those who participated in the war. The day was met with great success. In 1926, Congress adopted a resolution that directed the president to issue an annual proclamation to observe November 11th as Armistice Day. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, most of the states declared it a holiday for their state employees. The president only issued proclamations to observe it. In 1938, Congress finally established November 11 as Armistice Day and made it a federal holiday. At this point, it only honored WWI veterans, both living and dead, but mainly as a show of gratitude to living veterans.
After fighting two more major wars (World War II and the Korean War), millions more veterans were added to the honorees on Armistice Day. In 1954, president Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation officially changing the name to Veterans Day. [Ed. Note: I have seen it both as Veterans Day and Veteran’s Day. As I believe it is meant to honor all living veterans, I will use the former.] In 1968, Congress, in their infinite wisdom, passed either the Uniform Holidays Bill or the Monday Holiday Law (depending on your source: Military.com calls it the Uniform Holidays Bill, and the Army History site calls it the Monday Holidays Law, take your pick), and really messed things up. They decided that Veterans Day would be observed on the last Monday of October. (Kind of misses the point, doesn’t it?) Well, the states didn’t want to see it that way, so over the next few years, most of them (46) passed their own laws declaring November 11 as their observance of Veterans Day. By 1978, the law was changed, and the federal observance of Veterans Day was moved officially back to November 11.
Many people confuse the reasons for the observance of Veterans Day with those of Memorial Day. Military.com explains the difference:
Memorial Day honors servicemembers who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle. Deceased veterans are also remembered on Veterans Day but the day is set aside to thank and honor living veterans who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime.
Americans are proud of our freedoms and proud of the rights we have. But we wouldn’t have either if not for the many millions of brave men and women who have sacrificed so much, not just their lives and their limbs, but the families they left behind, the children whose first words they didn’t hear uttered, or whose first steps they didn’t see taken, or their first ride on a bicycle without training wheels, or their first day going to school, or their first graduation from one grade to another, or maybe their first prom date; the spouses who had to take care of the house in ways they weren’t already handling, to take care of the children when they needed a doctor, to pay the bills when they needed to be paid, and to be the rock at home when their kids ask when Mommy or Daddy is coming home; or the friends and careers they had to leave behind to answer their nation’s call to arms. I wouldn’t be able to sit here and write this, and you wouldn’t be able to sit there and read this if not for our country’s veterans. You may not agree with me and I may not agree with you, but you know what? We have the freedom to talk about it here because our men and women in uniform have gone over there and secured that right for us. So, I hope you will take the time today to thank a veteran for his or her service to our country. We wouldn’t be here without them.
To all our veterans out there, Happy Veterans Day, and thank you most sincerely for your service to our country. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you.