The history of Veterans Day begins on November 11, 1918. On this great day at 11am a cease fire, or armistice, went into effect between the Allied nations and Germany; effectively ending “The Great War”. (We now refer to this war as World War I, but at the time the world could not imagine there would ever be a greater war). The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, officially ending WW I.
Later that same year, November 1919, President Wilson called for the first Armistice Day celebration. The celebration was to occur on November 11, 1919 and be marked with parades and the 2 minute cessation of all business at 11 am. In President Wilson’s words the day was to “be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory…”
In 1920, France and the United Kingdom also held Armistice Day ceremonies. At President Wilson’s request, American churches prayed for peace the Sunday before Armistice Day. In 1921, Congress approved the establishment of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and chose Armistice Day for the date of the ceremony. Congress also declared November 11, 1921 a Federal Holiday to honor all those who served in WW I.
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s individual states declared November 11 a legal holiday, celebrating Armistice Day. On June 4, 1926 the United States Congress officially passed a resolution with these words; “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.” However, it was not until May 13, 1938 that Armistice Day was declared a federal holiday to be celebrated on November 11 of each year.
Armistice Day was a day to honor all Veterans, those who passed and those still living who served in WW I. It was also a day to pray for world peace. After WW II and the Korean War, Veterans organizations requested a change in the Armistice Day celebration. On June 1, 1954 President Eisenhower changed the name Armistice Day to Veterans Day in order to honor Veterans who served the United States in all wars.
Veterans Day changed slightly in 1968. In a law passed that year the date of the Veteran’s Day celebration was changed to the fourth Monday in October, in order to create a three day week end. The concept of the three day weekend was to stimulate the economy, by encouraging travel and celebrations. The first Monday, Veterans Day was celebrated October 25, 1971.
Many states disapproved of the change and did not follow the federal holiday, but kept the observance on the traditional and patriotic date. (States are not required to follow federal holidays, although most do.) On September 20, 1975 President Gerald Ford restored the celebration of Veterans Day to November 11, each year. It has remained such since.
Many confuse Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. There is one significant difference. Memorial Day honors those who lost their life while serving the United States of America in the military. Veteran’s Day honors both those who lost their life and those who survived but were willing to offer that ultimate sacrifice for their country.