In observance of Veterans Day, this week’s blog focuses on this holiday’s unique history as it has evolved over time. Veterans Day is a celebration of the heroism, sacrifice, and service of all men and women who bravely undertake the solemn duty to defend our country. This year, Veterans Day is unique from years past following President Trump’s proclamation establishing the entire month of November 2017 as National Veterans and Military Families Month.
Originally referred to as Armistice Day, the first commemoration of this holiday occurred on November 11, 1919, to mark the conclusion of WWI. Although “The Great War” did not officially conclude until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, it was an armistice issued at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918 (the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month) that brought fighting in “the war to end all wars” to a conclusion. Initially, Armistice Day was conceived as a day observed with parades, public displays, and a brief moment of silence beginning at 11:00 a.m. each November 11.
Interestingly, although President Woodrow Wilson included the phrase “Armistice Day” in his 1919 proclamation of the celebration, that appellation would not become official until the passage of a Congressional Resolution in 1926. Further, the commemoration of Armistice Day did not officially become a national holiday until May 13, 1938, when Congress passed legislation declaring that each November 11 thereafter be dedicated in honor of WWI veterans and world peace. The holiday officially became known as “Veterans Day” on June 1, 1954, when Congress passed legislation amending the existing statute to change the holiday’s name and expand its scope to honor all American veterans who have served in any war.
Although Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, that was not always the case. For a brief period of time, between 1971 and 1978, Congress moved the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October as a result of the Uniform Holiday Bill enacted in June of 1968. The law was a well-intended measure that sought to ensure several three-day weekends by moving four national holiday celebrations to Mondays. Recognizing the historical and patriotic significance of the November 11 date, however, President Gerald Ford signed legislation to return Veterans Day to November 11 beginning in 1978.
Today, one of the most prominent national ceremonies commemorating Veterans Day occurs right here in the Washington D.C. area at the Arlington National Cemetery. Each year, at precisely 11:00 a.m., a combined color guard, with representatives from all military services, performs a “Present Arms” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In addition, the ceremony is punctuated by the playing of “Taps,” the laying of a wreath, and a ceremony inside the Memorial Amphitheater. It is a truly poignant event. In addition to the ceremonies at Arlington, there are many regional observances that are recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which can be found here.
If you are unable to attend a Veterans Day commemoration this Saturday, please make sure to observe a moment of reflection at 11:00 am to remember and honor those brave men and women who serve our nation. God bless all who bravely choose to step into harm’s way to defend our freedom.