Every year on November 11th, we commemorate Veterans’ Day and those who have served in the military. There are tributes, thank-you’s, and parades. With all the memories, respect, and honor associated with the day, it is important to remember the history and meaning of Veterans’ Day.
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918, an armistice was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I, or the Great War. Originally referred to as Armistice Day, Veterans Day was initially created as the anniversary of the end of World War I. In November 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced that November 11th would be known as Armistice Day. Although the war didn’t officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th, 1919, November 11th will always be known as the end. The day was filled with parades and tributes, while at 11 a.m. a moment of silence was observed.
November 11th was further recognized as Armistice Day in 1921, when an unidentified American soldier, killed in World War I, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Also, on the same day, unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Five years later, on June 4th, 1926, Congress passed a resolution stating the “recurring anniversary on November 11th, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” Along with the observance, the president would issue an annual address for the day. On May 13th, 1938, an act declared Armistice Day an official legal federal holiday. Up until then, the day was commemorated in observance, but now November 11th was a legal holiday.
The name change from Armistice to Veterans’ Day came under President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 1st, 1954. Due to the efforts of American soldiers in World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress amended the 1938 act, changing Armistice to Veterans’ Day. Since then, the date has become a day to honor all veterans from all wars.
Veterans’ Day is celebrated throughout the world. Here in the in the United States, November 11th is observed with tributes and parades. At Arlington National Cemetery, an official wreath-laying ceremony is held at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Many people will wear red poppies on the day, as well. The red poppy is a symbol of World War I and first appeared in the poem “In Flanders’ Fields” by John McCrae. Poppies are usually worn in the lapel as a tribute and sold to raise money for veterans’ organizations. Also, the poppies are a symbol for Memorial Day.
The meaning of Veterans’ Day and that of Memorial Day are often confused, and this is a common misunderstanding. Veterans’ Day is to honor all the living and nonliving military members, while Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring service members who have died in service to our country or from injuries resulting from battle.
There are many ways to get your family and friends involved in remembering veterans on November 11th. Some include volunteering with a veterans’ organization, attending a parade, writing letters to veterans at the Veterans’ Hospital or flying an American flag in your yard year-round. Also, take the time to listen to a veteran’s story about his or her military experience. These are pieces of history that often get lost.
Remember the veterans you know on November 11th and every day of the year. A simple “thank-you” for their service can go a long way. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~ President John F. Kennedy.
Originally published in Forsyth Woman Magazine.