How Veterans Day went from celebrating world peace to thanking armed forces
On Nov. 11, we celebrate Veterans Day with parades and Old Glory T-shirts, with salutes to those who served and prayers for those who fell.
But the version of Veterans Day we know now wasn’t always so. It wasn’t always a holiday, it wasn’t always on Nov. 11 and, at first, it wasn’t even called Veterans Day. The original intent, established in the wake of World War I, was to celebrate world peace. Then the wars never ended, so Veterans Day changed.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Nov. 11, 1918
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, fighting between the Allied Forces and Germany stopped, putting an end to the bloodshed of World War I per the terms of an armistice agreement signed in France that same day.
But World War I — the “War to end all wars” — did not officially end until seven months later.
Nov. 11, 1919
On the one-year anniversary of the armistice agreement, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation commemorating Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. The celebrations were to include parades, public meetings and a two-minute suspension of business at 11 a.m.
The proclamation read: “… 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 …”
June 4, 1926
Congress passed a resolution urging state governors to observe Armistice Day with “thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations.”
At the time, 27 states had already made Nov. 11 a legal holiday.
May 13, 1938
More than a decade later, Congress made Armistice Day an official holiday dedicated to world peace.
June 1, 1954
World War I was not the war to ends all wars, and lawmakers believed that veterans from World War II and the Korean War also deserved their own day of remembrance. So President Eisenhower signed a bill changing the name of Armistice Day to the more inclusive Veterans Day, a holiday to thank all who had served the United States of America.
Oct. 12, 1954
Eisenhower published a proclamation in the Federal Register, instructing citizens to recognize Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
He wrote: “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
But through the past century, despite its different names and dates, the purpose of Veterans Day has remained the same — to say thanks.