When you don’t know the history behind the observance of certain holidays, it is hard to find them meaningful to celebrate.
In my growing up, I never knew anyone who made much of Veterans Day, and I didn’t really know what it was intended to celebrate. As an adult, I have learned about the background of Veterans Day, and now see its importance to so many people in our country, including people in my own family who served in the armed forces.
The history of Veterans Day is not at all frivolous–it’s not a day for summer cookouts or fireworks. It was a day created to honor the end of “the war to end all wars, ” which at the time was thought to be World War I.
The armistice, or the temporary ceasing of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month–November 11, 1918–was generally regarded as the end of the Great War, even though the Treaty of Versailles was not signed until June 28, 1919.
In 1938, the United States made November 11 a legal holiday called Armistice Day, a day dedicated to honor the veterans of World War I and the cause of world peace.
Unfortunately, World War I was not the “war to end all wars,” and in 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Alabama, started advocating to broaden Armistice Day’s focus to include all veterans of all wars. Weeks led a delegation to General Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of a National Veterans Day. So, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a bill changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day to celebrate all American veterans.
Fourteen years later, the Uniform Holiday Bill was signed with the intention 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. Great controversy raged over the changing of Veterans Day’s date, so in 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action mollified the large majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.
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.
Because it is a federal holiday, some American workers and many students have Veterans Day off from work or school. When Veterans Day falls on a Saturday then either Saturday or the preceding Friday may be designated as the holiday, whereas if it falls on a Sunday it is typically observed on the following Monday. It is a paid holiday for federal workers– non-essential federal government offices are closed and there is no mail delivery.
Veterans Day should not to be confused with Memorial Day or Armed Forces Day, both in May; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service and Armed Forces Day honors those currently serving in the American military. Veterans Day is not spelled with an apostrophe because, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, it is not a day that “belongs” to veterans–it is a day to honor all veterans.
Every Veterans Day an official ceremonial wreath-laying is held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Parades, ceremonies and events are held around the U.S. during this time. During the wreath-laying service, a combined color guard representing all military services executes a “Present Arms” in front of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 11 a.m. on November 11. In 1958 on Memorial Day, two more unidentified American war dead were buried next to the unknown soldier of World War I. One was from World War II and the other from the Korean War. In 1973, a law was passed building a grave and allowing funeral rights for an unknown solider from the Vietnam War, who was later identified in 1972 as Michael Blassie, a 24-year-old Air Force pilot shot down near the Cambodian border. It wasn’t until 1984 before another unidentified solider was buried at the tomb.
This holiday to honor all our servicemen who have given their time, dedication and lives to protect our freedoms is well worth celebrating with your family members and friends. Talk about the military service of your loved ones with your children. Attend a Veterans Day wreath-laying or parade. Put a flag on your house. Say a prayer. Make November 11 a memorable day.