Like many of our national holidays, Veterans Day has an interesting history. Here are a few tidbits about this Day of Remembrance.
In The Beginning
It began as a day recognizing a World War I veteran. In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, became the focal point of reverence for America's veterans. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation's highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting - known at the time as "The Great War" - at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918. The day became known as "Armistice Day" when in November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. By the way, WW I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany, went into effect on... the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.
Armistice Day "officially" received its name in America on June 4, 1926, through a Congressional resolution that read, in part:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and...
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and...
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
It became a national holiday 12 years later, in 1938, by similar Congressional action.
If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was "the War to end all Wars," November 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. Sixteen plus million Americans took part in World War II. 406,000 died in service, with more than 291,000 in battle.
In 1954, Congress, at the urging of veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. Later that same year, President Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated:
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 1958, the White House advised VA's General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee's chairman.
With Good Intentions
The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed in 1968, and was intended to insure 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.
The first Veterans Day under the 1968 new law was observed in 1971, but with much confusion. It was apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens; and so in 1975 President Ford returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date, beginning in 1978.
Today and For Our Tomorrows
Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11th, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance to November 11th, not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the most 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.
To Remember... to remember... lest we ever forget!
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt