Each year on November 11th, we in the United States celebrate Veterans Day to commemorate and honor all the brave and selfless individuals who have gone above and beyond to defend our country in the name of freedom. Although we’ve been celebrating Veterans Day for decades, not many people know the history behind the observance and the many transformations it has undergone over the years.
Despite The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919 in France, being seen as the official end to World War 1 (known at the time as “The Great War”), the actual fighting between the Allied nations and Germany ended several months earlier at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, on November 11, 1918, marking that date as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
To commemorate the occasion of the armistice, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. The day was originally celebrated with parades and a suspension of business at 11am. In 1938, an act was passed officially approving November 11th as a legal holiday—”a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.'”
The hope was that World War I would be the only war of its kind. Unfortunately, then came World War II, which saw the largest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the nation’s history. That war and the US’s eventual involvement in the Korean War, along with prodding from veterans’ organizations, led Congress to amend the Act of 1938, replacing the word “armistice” with “veterans.” This alteration, officially approved on June 1, 1954, led to the creation of the first Veterans Day—a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Later that year, President Eisenhower issued the very first Veterans Day proclamation and sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Highley, Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs, officially making him Chairman of the Veterans Day National committee.
In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill was signed, moving several national holidays, including Veterans Day to Mondays. The hope was that a three-day weekend would lead to an increase in travel and recreational activities. Many states’ governments did not approve of this change and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date, which led to a lot of confusion. In 1975, to rectify the problem, President Gerald Ford signed a public law which returned the observance of Veterans Day back to November 11th, a move which was overwhelmingly supported by the states and most veterans’ organizations.
Since 1975, Veterans Day has been celebrated on November 11th, regardless of what day of the week it falls on. Celebrating on the same date each year preserves the historical significance of the day while allowing the focus of the day to be on what’s most important—honoring and celebrating American veterans for their sacrifices, service, and patriotism.