Most people are aware of the annual Veteran’s Day held across the USA on November 11th to remember our war veterans. However, the full story goes a little deeper than you might imagine.
The first version of Veteran’s Day was known as Armistice Day and held back in November 1919 to commemorate the temporary armistice agreed between the Allies and Germany on the same date the previous year. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the warring parties agreed to a temporary halt to hostilities – also known as the Armistice.
Armistice Day captures the imagination as the end of the Great War
The name and date stuck when US President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it Armistice Day in 1919 – despite the fact the Great War wouldn’t officially end until June 28th 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
However, perhaps the first real acceptance and recognition of Armistice Day came on November 11th 1920 when the bodies of two unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, and Westminster Abbey, London. The US followed suit the following year with the burial of an unidentified soldier at Arlington Cemetery, Washington D.C.
The date was further ratified with the passing of a resolution by Congress in June 1926 stating that the “recurring anniversary of [November 11, 1918] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
The concept of Armistice Day was officially born and by 1938 a further act called for the establishment of a legal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”
How Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day
On the 1st September 1939, German forces invaded Poland, prompting Britain and France to declare war two days later – heralding the start of World War II. America would later join the war effort on December 7th 1941 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
The second World War would see the greatest war effort in the US’ history with the mobilization of more than 16 million service personnel.
In 1954 (and following pressure from numerous veterans’ associations) the previous 1938 act was amended to change the name from “Armistice Day” to “Veteran’s Day” in an effort to better respect and remember the considerable effort of all US forces – in all wars.
Despite a temporary (and confusing) change to move Veteran’s Day to the fourth Monday in October, the original date was again restored by US President Gerald Ford in 1975, effective from November 11th 1978 – the date that endures today.
Help for veterans
Today, there are numerous help organizations available to veterans to help them deal with retirement from the services or other traumas caused as a result of war. For example, the Consultants for America’s Veterans offers considerable support services to service personnel.
However, help of this nature wasn’t always available and vets from numerous wars have often found themselves out in the cold when returning from war. Veteran’s Day was, in part, intended to address this – to celebrate our war heroes while commemorating the memory of the fallen.