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A Look Back: History of Veterans Day

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17,418,351 veterans are currently living in the U.S. Veterans Day is a day set aside to remember these millions of men and women. The holiday can trace its roots back 100 years to the end of the First World War.

The War to End All Wars

After four years of brutal fighting and millions of lives lost, on November 11, 1918, the Allies and Germany signed a ceasefire, halting the fighting on the Western Front. Despite the U.S. not entering the First World War until April 1917, 4,734,991 Americans served. Of this number, 116,516 perished. On the one-year anniversary, President Woodrow Wilson directed Americans to remember and commemorate this historic day — known as Armistice Day.

“The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the command interests of men,” Wilson declared. “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

Adding Veterans

On May 13, 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a federal holiday to honor American veterans of the First World War. Sixteen years later in 1954, U.S. Rep. Edward H. Rees introduced a bill to change the holiday’s name to Veterans Day and to include veterans of all wars. Both the House of Representatives and Senate passed the bill, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved it. “On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and one foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a veteran himself, wrote on October 8, 1954, “and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

In June 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law and moved Veterans Day from November 11 to the fourth Monday in October to give Americans a three-day weekend. The law went into effect in 1971. Many found the move unfavorable due to the historic significance of November 11. As a result, on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford reversed the law, returning Veterans Day to November 11. The holiday officially reverted to its original day in 1978.

What Can You Do?

There are a numerous ways citizens can honor veterans, even with the constraints of COVID-19. Send a note of appreciation, flowers or other gifts to a veteran in a local assistant living or nursing home facility. Do you have any family or friends who are veterans? A simple phone call or text saying “thank you” can have quite an impact. Consider wearing a poppy or hanging a flag outside your home or business to show your appreciation. Visit a veteran’s grave in a local cemetery. Veteran headstones are easy to distinguish by their distinct headstones or bronze flag holders. Support a veteran-owned business. The simplest thing to do is to take a moment to reflect and remember these men and women who served. Any of these simple gestures or acts let our veterans know that we haven’t forgotten about them.


About Frank Jastrzembski

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Frank Jastrzembski is an associate editor with Delta Defense, LLC. He studied history at John Carroll University (B.A.) and Cleveland State University (M.A.). He’s written dozens of history and travel articles and two books on Victorian officers. He’s also a regular contributor to the blog Emerging Civil War. He runs “Shrouded Veterans,” a nonprofit mission to identify or repair the graves of Mexican War and Civil War veterans.

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