Why Armistice Day Became Veterans Day
Take a quick history lesson about one of our nation's most beloved holidays.
It is a day filled with emotion: patriotic speeches from community leaders and politicians, war-time remembrances told in shaky voices by grandfathers, and carefree children running up and down the parade route waving American flags. But did you know that Veterans Day was first called Armistice Day? November 11 is more than just the holiday before the Thanksgiving break. Study up on these interesting facts on how Veterans Day became a federal holiday.
It Was Originally Called Armistice Day
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Though the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, marked the official end of the war, the American public still viewed November 11as the date that marked the end of the Great War. The following year, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated November 11 as Armistice Day.
The Road to Becoming a Federal Holiday
The first observation of Armistice Day, in 1920, included parades and public gatherings, as well as a pause in business activities at 11 a.m. The following year the historic date was further marked with the somber burial at Arlington National Cemetery of an unidentified American soldier killed in the war. A few years later, on June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations” and that the President should issue an annual proclamation calling for the observance of Armistice Day. Finally, by an act approved on May 13, 1938, November 11 became a legal federal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.
How It Became Known as Veterans Day
Unfortunately, “the war to end all wars” did not, and the United States was soon embroiled in World War II and then the Korean War. In 1954, after lobbying efforts by veterans’ service organizations, the 83rd U.S. Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday, striking the word “Armistice” in favor of “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954. From then on, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
A Brief Change of Dates
In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. By celebrating Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day, (all celebrated on Mondays) this ensured that federal employees would receive four three-day weekends. The observation of Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October, and the first Veterans Day under the new law was Monday, October 25, 1971. Many states disapproved of this change and continued to observe the holiday on its original date of November 11. Recognizing that the actual date of Veterans Day carried historical and patriotic significance to many Americans, in 1975 President Gerald Ford signed legislation returning the observation of Veterans Day back to November 11.
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Memorial Day honors American service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle. Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans–living or dead–but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.