Veterans Day History

"Veterans Day Poster Gallery" by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” ~Ronald Reagan

The History

Four years into the First World War, also known as “the Great War,” the Allied nations and Germany finally declared an armistice that was to take place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.  Though it had been unofficially known when the fighting would end two days prior, and with certainty by 5 o’clock the morning of the 11th; the American Expeditionary Forces suffered more than 3,500 casualties in the final hours of war.

Though the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of the following year, the public maintained that November 11, 1918 was truly the ending of the Great War and that same month President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th Armistice Day.

"Tomb of the Unknowns." Wikipedia. Wikimedia
Foundation, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
On November 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier who had been killed during the war was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, today better known as “The Tomb of the Unknowns.” 

On that same day in both London and Paris, unidentified soldiers were also buried in places of honor. U.S. Congress declared the day a federal holiday to honor those who took part in the war, both living and dead.  

On June 4, 1926 Congress passed a motion stating 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.”

Veteran’s Day

In 1945 WWII veteran Raymond Weeks was struck with the idea to expand Armistice Day to encompass the veterans of all wars. He put forward a proposition to then General Eisenhower, who supported the idea. Weeks led the first national celebration in 1947, and every year after until his death in 1982. President Ronald Reagan later called Weeks the “Father of Veterans Day.”

Retired Army 1st Sgt. William Staude, of Elliott, Pa., salutes soldiers from the
316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret.

Armistice Day saw American participation in WWII (1941-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953) totaling up to more than 16 million troops. As millions came home from war, veteran service organizations sought ways to acknowledge their service. In May of 1954, now President Eisenhower signed a bill into law declaring Armistice Day a federal holiday. One month later the word “Armistice” was replaced with “Veterans,” and it has since been known as Veterans Day!

Traditions in the U.S. and around the world

On Veterans Day in the United States, an official wreath-laying ceremony is held at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, while parades and other celebrations are held in states around the country.

Britain, France, Canada and many Commonwealth countries also commemorate the veterans of World Wars I and II on or near November 11th: they call it Remembrance Day or in Britain, Remembrance Sunday. In the countries it is common to observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. every November 11.

Lindsay Dwyer,
Reference & Instruction Librarian

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