Veterans Day began after World War I as Armistice Day, with real hopes for an enduring American peace

Published: 6 November 2023

By Beth Folsom
via the Cambridge Day web site


Massachusetts soldiers, including veterans from Cambridge, march in the state’s Armistice Day Parade on Nov. 11, 1929.

Just over a century ago, on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month (Nov. 11, 1918), formal hostilities ended in the First World War when an armistice with Germany went into effect. Known originally as Armistice Day, this holiday was meant to honor those who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I and had been discharged in any manner other than dishonorably.

Although Nov. 11 was celebrated by much of the American public from its first anniversary in 1919, it was in 1938 that the day became a legal holiday by an Act of Congress and known formally as Armistice Day. In 1945, following the end of World War II, army veteran Raymond Weeks had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks led a delegation to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of National Veterans Day. The day took on this broader significance over the next decade and, in 1954, it was formally renamed Veterans Day.

Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt Armistice Day as an official holiday, beginning with Gov. Calvin Coolidge’s proclamation in 1919. Local organizations, including groups such as the American Legion, the Elks Club and area churches, used the occasion to host commemorations in the form of parades, concerts, balls and sermons. On Nov. 11, 1919, Cambridge Mayor Edward Quinn declared that there would be a public gathering in front of City Hall, featuring representatives from the current army and navy departments as well as members of the Grand Army of the Republic (veterans of the Civil War) and Spanish American War Veterans. The event featured a reading of the Declaration of Independence and concluded with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

It was clear from this first Armistice Day celebration in Cambridge that the holiday would not be limited to those who had served in World War I. In fact, with the population of soldiers from the Civil War and Spanish American War eras disappearing rapidly, the institution of a new holiday to honor military service took on a wider and more important meaning in helping to keep public memory of those earlier struggles alive. Over the past century – beginning well before the official shift from a World War I-specific holiday to a broader Veterans Day – Armistice Day commemorations have routinely included celebrations of all who had served in the Armed Forces, regardless of period.

As the world moved through an economic depression and into another world war, Armistice Day took on a new meaning, marking both the enduring hope of peace and the perilous threat of war. The fact that the United States again found itself embroiled in a global conflict not a quarter-century after the peace of 1918 caused many in Cambridge and around the country to question the continued celebration of Armistice Day. In November 1946, just over a year after the end of World War II, congressman-elect John F. Kennedy spoke to members of the Cambridge American Legion at their annual Armistice Ball. Kennedy remarked, “And now once again the soldiers and sailors and marines have come home – and Armistice Day now honors the dead of another war. Once again there are Cambridge boys among them.” Kennedy’s message to his listeners that night was one of cautious optimism, expressing hope that the world had learned the importance of international cooperation and mutual goodwill from its second foray into global warfare, if not from its first.

Read the entire article on the Cambridge Day web site here:

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