The History of Veterans Day in America

Veteran’s Day

“...when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of ‘the war to end all wars.” VA.GOV

World War I ended, officially, with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. In reality, the war had been winding down in many respects after the signing of an armistice - a cease fire - on November 11th, 1918. 

A year after the armistice was signed, President Wilson proclaimed the eleventh day of the eleventh month as a commemoration of Armistice Day in America.

"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…"

President Wilson

Elsewhere in the world, Armistice Day was celebrated for much the same reason. Edward George Honey was an Australian journalist living in London at the end of World War I. He wrote a letter recommending a few minutes of silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month each year (History.com).

Congress agreed with President Wilson’s sentiments on June 4th, 1926, inside a concurrent resolution declaring the official end of World War I. They spoke in plain words, requesting such a memorable day be made an legal federal holiday:

Whereasthe 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

Whereasit 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

Whereasthe 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 was passed on May 13th, 1938, officially marking November 11th as Armistice Day each year. 

Though this date was originally set aside to honor the veterans of World War I, it wasn’t long before the meaning of the day changed in scope. In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks wrote about expanding Armistice day to include all veterans of US wars. Weeks went on to lead a delegation to General Eisenhower to present this idea. He is now considered ‘the Father of Veterans Day,’ and led National Veterans Day from its start in 1947 until Weeks’ death in 1985. 

On June 4th, 1954, the 83rd Congress passed an amendment to the 1938 resolution, replacing the word ‘Armistice’ with the word ‘Veterans’. The purpose of the day was changed from honoring the veterans of World War I to honoring American veterans of all wars. 

Soon enough, attempts at change popped up again. In 1968, the passing of the Uniform Holiday Bill re-positioned four holidays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus’ Birthday. This bill positioned the holidays to fall on Mondays or Fridays, affording federal employees three-day weekends for each of these holidays. Not everyone agreed with the reasoning behind moving Veterans Day, and 46 states refused outright. 

After much confusion and argument from veteran’s affairs offices and state legislatures, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which moved Veterans Day back to its yearly November 11th date. This change was signed in 1975, and the correction took place starting in 1978.

Veterans Day has continued to be celebrated on November 11th since 1978

“I believe there is still room for tradition in this society, even as we race forward toward the 21st century. A tradition we must keep alive is the setting aside of a single day each year to honor the veterans of this Nation. And this day should remain the same, and should not be changed around to suit some arbitrary holiday schedule.”

Dominick Daniels, Representative NJ

This year marks 101 years since the first celebration of Armistice Day, and 66 years since the start of Veterans Day.



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