Veterans Day: A Lesson in History

Holidays have turned into retail sales opportunities but holidays have history worth learning about. And while boosting the economy can be a patriotic activity, it is very important to understand the truest meaning behind Veterans Day.

World War I fighting ended with an armistice between the Allies and Germany that went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The “the war to end all wars” wasn’t officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed some seven months later, but November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of World War I.

President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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.”

The idea for was for a day of celebration with parades and public meetings, suspending business beginning at 11:00 a.m. each year on the November 11th anniversary to recognize the end of World War I.

On June 4, 1926, the United States Congress recognized November 11th with the following resoluton:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

On May 13, 1938, the 11th of November in each year became a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

With the stroke of his pen, President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Veterans day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. My late father was a Korean War veteran, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He would be so proud of his grandson, my nephew who serves in today’s Marines.

To our nation’s veterans, both living and in memory: America salutes you.

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