A Brief History of Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. I’m proud to say that many members of my family have bravely and admirably served in the U.S. armed forces – including, my mother, maternal grandfather, paternal grandfather, and paternal great uncle.

A Brief History of Veterans Day

During WWI, an armistice was reached on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The following year, November 11th was commemorated as Armistice Day. It became a federal legal holiday in the United states in 1938. After World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.

President Woodrow Wilson’s Armistice Day Proclamation in 1919

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.”

President Dwight Eisenhower’s Veteran’s Day Proclamation in 1954

Whereas it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace; and

Whereas in the intervening years the United States has been involved in two other great military conflicts, which have added millions of veterans living and dead to the honor rolls of this Nation; and

Whereas the Congress passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926 (44 Stat. 1982), calling for the observance of November 11 with appropriate ceremonies, and later provided in an act approved May 13, 1938 (52 Stat. 351), that the eleventh of November should be a legal holiday and should be known as Armistice Day; and

Whereas, in order to expand the significance of that commemoration and in order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress, by an act approved June 1, 1954 (68 Stat. 168), changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day:

Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain. I also direct the appropriate officials of the Government to arrange for the display of the flag of the United States on all public buildings on Veterans Day.

In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)). The law 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 long weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and, therefore, stimulate the economy. 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. Several years later in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), returning the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. And Veterans Day has continued to be celebrated on the November 11 ever since.

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