News Column

Veterans Day Holiday Rooted in World War I

November 12, 2012

Paul Feely

Many Americans think Veterans Day was created to honor members of the military who died in battle or from wounds suffered during combat. While true in part, the day was established to honor all who have served, living and dead, in all branches of the U.S. military.

Veterans Day, on Nov. 11, commemorates all veterans across the country and has its origins in World War I. According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. But seven months prior, fighting stopped when an armistice (a temporary cessation of hostilities) between the Allied nations and Germany was agreed upon "on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."

Nov. 11, 1918, is the day World War I ended, and the reason why Veterans Day is celebrated that day.

President Woodrow Wilson is quoted as saying on the first commemoration of Armistice Day (Nov. 11, 1919), "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 the nations..."

The original idea behind the celebration called for a day featuring parades, public meetings and a brief stoppage of business, starting at 11 a.m.

An act approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday known as Armistice Day. It was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required "the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation's history", according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the 83rd Congress (at the urging of veterans service organizations) amended the 1938 act by changing the word "Armistice" to "Veterans." The legislation was approved on June 1, 1954, and November 11th became a day set aside to honor American veterans of all wars.

That same year, on Oct. 8, President Dwight D. Eisenhower put forth a "Veterans Day Proclamation", which read: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible."