Veterans Day is intended to honor and thank all military personnel who served the United States in all wars, particularly living veterans. It is marked by parades and church services and in many places the American flag is hung at half mast. A period of silence lasting two minutes may be held at 11am. Some schools are closed on Veterans Day, while others do not close, but choose to mark the occasion with special assemblies or other activities. In the United States, an official wreath-laying ceremony is held each Veterans Day at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, while parades and other celebrations are held in states around the country.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War. It was named Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.
The Great War & Armistice Day
Though the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, November 11 remained in the public imagination as the date that marked the end of the Great War. In November 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The day’s observation included parades and public gatherings, as well as a brief pause in business activities at 11 a.m. On November 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; the U.S. Congress had declared the day a legal federal holiday in honor of all those who participated in the war. On the same day, unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
On June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution that the “recurring anniversary of [November 11, 1918] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations” and that the president should issue an annual proclamation calling for the observance of Armistice Day. By that time, 27 state legislatures had made November 11 a legal holiday. An act approved May 13, 1938 made November 11 a legal Federal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.'”
Armistice Day to Veterans Day
American effort during World War II (1941-1945) saw the greatest mobilization of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force in the nation’s history (more than 16 million people); some 5.7 million more served in the Korean War (1950 to 1953). In 1954, after lobbying efforts by veterans’ service organizations, the 83rd U.S. Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday, striking the word “Armistice” in favor of “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954. From then on, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
The observation of Veterans Day was set as the fourth Monday in October. The first Veterans Day under the new law was Monday, October 25, 1971; confusion ensued, as many states disapproved of this change, and continued to observe the holiday on its original date. In 1975, after it became evident that the actual date of Veterans Day carried historical and patriotic significance to many Americans, President Gerald R. Ford signed a new law returning the observation of Veterans Day to November 11th beginning in 1978. If November 11 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the federal government observes the holiday on the previous Friday or following Monday, respectively.
Celebrating Veterans Day around the World
Britain, France, Australia and Canada also commemorate the veterans of World Wars I and II on or near November 11th: Canada has Remembrance Day, while Britain has Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday of November). In Europe, Britain and the Commonwealth countries it is common to observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. every November 11.
Unknown U.S. soldier from the
North African American Cemeter
World War I, then normally referred to simply as The Great War (no one could imagine any war being greater!), ended with the implementation of an armistice [temporary cessation of hostilities-in this case until the final peace treaty, the infamous Treaty of Versailles, was signed in 1919] between the Allies and Germany at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November, 1918.
November 11: President Wilson proclaims the first 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 the suspension of business for a two minute period beginning at 11 A.M., with the day also marked by parades and public mettings.
On the second anniversary of the armistice, France and the United Kingdom hold ceremonies honoring their unknown dead from the war. In America, at the suggestion of church groups, President Wilson names the Sunday nearest Armistice Day Sunday, on which should be held services in the interest of international peace.
Congress passes legislation approving the establishment of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. November 11 is chosen for the date of the ceremony. According on October 20, Congress declares November 11, 1921 a legal Federal holiday to honor all those who participated in the war. The ceremony was conducted with great success.
Congress adopts a resolution directing the President to issue an annual proclamation calling on the observance of Armistice Day. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, most states establish November 11 as a legal holiday and at the Federal level, an annual proclamation is issued by the President.
Congress passes legislation on May 13 making November 11 a legal Federal holiday, Armistice Day. The United States has no ‘actual’ national holidays because the states retain the right to designate their own holidays. The Federal government can in fact only designate holidays for Federal employees and for the District of Columbia. But in practice the states almost always follow the Federal lead in designation of holidays.
World War II and the Korean War create millions of additional war veterans in addition to those of the First World War already honored by Armistice Day.
On June 1, President Eisenhower signs legislation changing the name of the legal holiday from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day.
Congress passes the Monday Holiday Law which established the fourth Monday in October as the new date for the observance of Veteran’s Day. The law is to take effect in 1971.
The Federal observance of Veterans Day is held on the fourth Monday of October. Initially all states follow suit except Mississippi and South Dakota. Other states changed their observances back to November 11 as follows: 1972- Louisiana and Wisconsin; 1974- Kentucky, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, South Carolina, West Virginia; 1975- California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming
Legislation passed to return the Federal observance of Veteran’s Day to November 11, based on popular support throughout the nation. Since the change to the fourth Monday in October, 46 states had either continued to commemorate November 11 or had reverted back to the original date based on popular sentiment. The law was to take effect in 1978.
Veteran’s Day observance reverts to November 11.