Veterans Day is fast approaching: What will you be doing and why?
The Veterans Day holiday is upon us. To many people, that means a day off of work or school and to others, participating in a parade or attending a ceremony held at a local cemetery. To yet others, particularly those who lost a loved one in a war or other conflict or welcomed home an injured warrior, a national observance provides some solace in the recognition that the service of those courageous men and women of the military meant something to our country and to its residents. Yet for a large part of our population, the history of the establishment of Veterans Day is unknown. Thus, we offer the following walk through time to identify why November 11 of every year is observed across our nation.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of November, 1919, the Armistice between the Allied Nations and Germany was signed, thus formally ending the World War I hostilities—although the official end of that war did not occur until June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was executed, a Treaty that the U.S. did not sign, leaving us to ponder what that meant or may still mean. President Woodrow Wilson’s words uttered on that day in November continue to have resonance. As he was quoted in New York’s The Evening World newspaper on November 11, 1919:
“My Fellow Countrymen: The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober friendly counsel and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.”
Thereafter, observances of that meaningful anniversary were called Armistice Day—until Congress, by Resolution in 1926, provided for an annual observance of the Armistice, followed by action in 1938 declaring that Day a national holiday. It wasn’t until 1954, however, after the end of the Korean War, that the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in tribute to all veterans, living and dead. It is worth noting that this feature of the Veterans Day holiday differs from the veteran population honored by the Memorial Day holiday which pays tribute to those who died in the service of our country.
Yet other facts in the evolving nature of Veterans Day are of interest. For example, from 1968 to 1975, Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday in October pursuant to the ‘Uniform Holidays Bill’ passed by Congress. Apparently, it was deemed important by our elected leaders to have a manageable schedule of dates for observing national holidays. Apart from the ensuing chaos that edict created in many states that had been observing the holiday on November 11, what happened in 1975? President Gerald Ford ‘returned’ the day of observance to November 11 in respect for its historical roots—in the signing of the Armistice—even though Veterans Day now commemorates veterans of both WWI and WWII and any other conflict in which the U.S. has participated, including the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War and those conflicts currently taking place.
Here are a few curiosities: For teachers and grammarians who wonder why we don’t designate this holiday as Veterans’ Day (i.e. as possessive), the thinking is that the holiday doesn’t belong to veterans but instead honors them—so the apostrophe isn’t erroneously missing. And according to some sources, the first national celebration of the holiday was in Alabama in 1947 and led by veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham who was awarded the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 by President Reagan, and given the title of “Father of Veterans Day” by Elizabeth Dole who had prepared the President’s briefing.
For so many individuals in our country, underlying the observance of this holiday is the understanding that, no matter what one believes about the policies of our federal government concerning the role of the United States in military operations and intervention, we recognize that the women and men who join the armed forces and are deployed abroad to aid a country in defending and protecting its citizenry from invasion, or to protect the population from a despotic regime, deserve our respect and support.