The History of Veterans (Armistice) Day

Photo: President John F. Kennedy lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 1961. (White House photo by Robert Knudsen courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/Released)

President John F. Kennedy lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 1961. (White House photo by Robert Knudsen courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/Released)

By William Selby, Defense Media Activity

While it’s great to be honored and thanked every November 11th, I find it a bit sad that I didn’t know the history behind Veterans Day. Everyone knows the basic meaning and that if you see or know a vetern, you should probably thank them for their service, sacrifice, and commitment. But how many people actually know why November 11 was chosen as THE day to honor our veterans? Did you know that at one point it was not even held on November 11?

Without further ado, get ready for today’s history lesson.

At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of November, in 1918, Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice ending the hostilities during World War I. Exactly one year later, then-President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the day Armistice Day.

“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.”

A few year later in 1921, Congress passed legislation approving the establishment of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., while also declaring November 11 a federal holiday to honor all those who participated in the World War I. In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal Federal holiday, which led most states to declare the holiday as well.

It wasn’t until June 1, 1954, that November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. On October 8 of that year, President Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day proclamation.

“In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill was created to ensure three day holidays for Federal employees in order to encourage travel, stimulating industrial and commercial production. After that, the first Veterans Day under the new law was observed without the desired effect on October 25, 1971. President Gerald R. Ford then changed it back to the original date of November 11.

Veterans Day continues to be celebrated on November 11, regardless of what day of the week it may fall on.

For more about the history of Veterans Day, visit http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp or http://www.history.army.mil/html/reference/holidays/vetsday/vetshist.html

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