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History of Veterans Day

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War”– officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ended seven months earlier when an armistice or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh day of the eleventh month and the eleventh hour. For that reason, November 11, 1918 is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars”.

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: 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…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with the following words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far-reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Armistice Day 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; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. Later that same year on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed the Administrator of Veterans Affairs as Chairman of the Veterans Day Committee.

Since March 1989 when the VA was elevated to a cabinet-level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee’s chairman.

The uniform holiday bill was signed on June 28, 1968 and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls.

What does Veterans Day mean to me?

Veterans day to me holds a very special meaning. Being a veteran myself, having served in the United States Army as a combat infantryman at the end and post-Vietnam era. I am deeply honored to have served and to this day would do it all again. I have a son who served in Iraq with honor in the Army as an infantryman and who makes me very proud. On April 5th, 2012 my grandson was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the marines. I observe Veterans day remembering veterans who have laid down their lives and honoring those who are still with us. I love the comradery that only veterans can understand.

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

Does it mean a three-day weekend, a parade, a barbeque or another festive activity? I would hope that you enjoy anything you and your family have planned for this day. However, I would hope that you at least remember who gave you the opportunity to enjoy these activities and remember that many are not here to enjoy them with their families. So please if you know a veteran just say “thank you.” It might not seem enough, but to the veteran, it means the world. However, you choose to celebrate please, please be safe and enjoy.

Happy Veterans Day!

— Lyle Ellis

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