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Veterans Day is important because it’s an opportunity to honor the men and women who’ve fought for our country. Did you know it has a secret history that stretches all the way from Buckingham Palace to Birmingham, Alabama?

Sometimes, hope comes at the eleventh hour. That was the case at the end of World War I when a peace accord, or armistice, was signed at 11 a.m. on November 11 — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Although the official treaty to end the war came later, the significance of November 11 struck a cord throughout the world as a day of peace. Armistice Day began with a commemoration in England; in the United States, it was a day chosen to honor veterans of “The Great War.”

In 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution declaring November 11 to “be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” The peace accord is still recognized on November 11, not just in the U.S., but also in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Years later, of course, World War II brought the nations of the war into conflict again, and the United States mobilized a record number of troops to fight. One of those veterans, an Alabamian named Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, felt that all veterans should be honored on the day already associated with healing and peace. Weeks brought his plan to Army Chief of Staff Dwight Eisenhower. The plan didn’t go into effect at the time, so Weeks took his idea home to Birmingham where he put together the first U.S. Veterans Day Parade in 1947.

Eventually, Chief of Staff Eisenhower became President Eisenhower, and on in 1954, he officially changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. It still happened on that historic day, November 11, but it was broadened to include all U.S. Veterans — those who served in both World Wars and in Korea as well.

Today, Veterans Day honors the sacrifice of all U.S. Veterans — both the living and those we’ve lost. The specifics of Veterans Day have changed throughout the years, but its purpose, to stand as a commemoration of great sacrifice and a day to do our best to spread “good will and mutual understanding between nations,” remains just as important today as it was in 1918 on the original Armistice Day.

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