Veterans Day was Originally Called Armistice Day – Here’s How it Began…

The World War I armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919. It was the first anniversary of the end of World War I.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.
Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect (https://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp)

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 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 original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and November 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans, living or dead, and especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.

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.

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year 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.

In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans rather than just the ones who died in World War I. He led a delegation to General Dwight Eisenhower, who was all for the idea. Weeks then organized the first Veterans Day celebration in 1945 in Alabama and every year since, until he died in 1985. In 1982, he was honored by President Reagan with the Presidential Citizenship Medal. Weeks was also named the ‘Father of Veterans Day’ by Elizabeth Dole.

In 1954, Ed Rees, the U.S. Representative from Emporia, Kansas, presented a bill to establish the holiday to Congress. Eisenhower, who was then the president and also from Kansas, signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954, eight and a half years after Raymond Weeks held the first Veterans Day. After having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urge 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 on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

The National Veterans Award was also created in 1954, first received by Congressman Rees for his support in making Veterans Day a federal holiday. Though the holiday is currently and was originally celebrated on November 11, the day was moved to the fourth Monday of October in 1971 due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Finally, on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

The military men and women who serve and protect the United States come from all walks of life; they are parents, children, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, and are an important part of their communities. Here are some facts about the veteran population of the United States:

  • 19 million living veterans served during at least one war as of April 2021.
  • 11 percent of veterans are women.
  • 5.9 million veterans served during the Vietnam War.
  • 7.8 million veterans served in the Gulf War era.
  • Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, about 240,000 were still alive as of 2021.
  • 933,000 veterans served during the Korean War.
  • As of 2021, the top three states with the highest percentage of Veterans were Alaska, Virginia and Montana.

WHY VETERANS DAY IS IMPORTANT

  • It’s a chance to thank people for risking their lives to defend America. An estimated 20% of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, according to government statistics. You’d be surprised at how much it means to veterans to feel valued by civilians for their services and sacrifices.
  • It’s a chance to reflect on the importance of peace. While our military is often thought of in a war context, most veterans will tell you that they risked their lives to defend our fundamental freedoms and that they value peace much more highly than war. Very few who have seen the real horror of war are anxious to rush into it, and Veterans Day encourages all of us to reflect on the value of harmony in our daily interactions and lives.
  • It draws attention to the challenges facing many veterans. Veterans face disproportionate rates of homelessness, deficits in educational achievement, a struggle to find employment, and often have to deal with devastating wounds. In many cases, post-traumatic stress disorder makes it hard for them to reintegrate into regular society. By understanding these challenges, we can all reach across those divides and make sure veterans have the best possible chance of having a healthy and fulfilling life after their service.

More Information on Veterans Organizations in Oregon by County:  https://www.oregon.gov/odva/services/pages/county-services.aspx

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