Origins of Veterans Day

Published: 8 November 2023

By Post Adjutant-American Legion
via the San Saba News & Star newspaper (TX) web site


American soldiers of the 64th Regiment, part of the 7th Division, celebrate the news of the Armistice.

Part I of II

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier 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 World War I (WWI).

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11th 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 WWI when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926. On May 13, 1938, Congress 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.” So, at first, Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I.

However, in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in the nation’s history and after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veteran’s 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 on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office, 1975

The Uniform Holiday was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11th, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of most state legislatures, all major veterans’ service organizations and the American people.

Part II of II

The Spirit of Veterans Day

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.

For millions of veterans, service members, and their families – Veterans Day is not merely another federal holiday. It is a chance to share experiences with others, to honor the bravery of former service members, and to reflect on the many reasons they served and fought for America. This country was born of the sacrifice of ordinary Americans who were willing to risk everything to give our country the chance to thrive.

This country has matured under the protection of countless generations of brave Americans who have put their lives on the line to defend our constitutional freedoms. America continues to flourish under the protection of military service members who are today serving around the world to promote security, and further the cause of peace. On this special day, we should celebrate their holiday and extend our thanks to all those who have served our country in uniform.

Part I published November 1, 2023 on the San Saba News & Star web site.

Part II published November 8, 2023 on the San Saba News & Star web site.

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