What Is Veterans Day?
Veterans Day originated as "Armistice Day" on November 11th, 1919. It originally commemorated the armistice between the Allied forces and Germany that took place on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." On June 28th, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending World War I. However, the day of the ceasefire, Armistice Day, marked the end of hostilities with Germany and the "war to end all wars."
In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson designated November 11th as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, stating, "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…"
In 1926, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance of Armistice Day. In 1938, November 11th became a national holiday, primarily as a day set aside to honor WWI veterans. However, in 1954, after WWII and the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Veterans Day was now a day to commemorate veterans of all wars, living or deceased.
But then in 1968, the Uniforms Holiday Bill was passed, ensuring three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. As a result of the bill, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed on October 25th, 1971, to great confusion. Despite the change, many states and local governments continued to celebrate the holiday on November 11th because of the date's historical significance.
It wasn't until September 20th, 1975, that President Gerald Ford signed a law returning Veterans Day's annual observance to its original date of November 11th. The law took effect in 1978, and since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on November 11th.
Under President George W. Bush, the United States Senate Resolution 143 was passed on August 4th, 2001. The resolution designated the week of November 11th through November 17th, 2001, as "National Veterans Awareness Week," aiming to promote an understanding of veterans and the sacrifices they make for our country with elementary and middle school students.
How is Veterans Day Celebrated?
Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans, both those alive and those who have passed. It honors them for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to sacrifice their lives for the common good.
Every Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery holds an annual memorial service for the deceased. Over 400,000 people, most of whom served in the military, are buried at the cemetery.
As a national holiday, all government businesses are closed in observance of Veterans Day. The day is commonly marked by parades and public celebrations to thank veterans for their service. It is also common for the American flag to be hung at half-mast, and for two minutes of silence to be observed at 11 AM.
As Great Britain, France, Australia, and Canada were also involved in WWI and WWII, they also commemorate the veterans on or near November 11th: Canada celebrates Remembrance Day and Britain observes Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday of November). In Europe, as well as the Commonwealth countries, two minutes of silence are often observed at 11 AM on November 11th.