Today, we celebrate Veterans Day with patriotic thanksgiving. There are school convocations with singing children and Old Glory t-shirts. We play Taps. We say, to those who fell and those who lived, “Thank You For Your Service.”
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 the “War to end all wars,” was to celebrate world peace. When the wars never ended, Veteran’s Day changed.
Let’s start from the beginning.
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 so-called “War to end all wars” — did not officially end until seven months later.
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…”
Congress passes a resolution urging state governors to observe Armistice Day with “thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
At the time, twenty-seven states had already made Nov. 11 a legal holiday.
More than a decade later, Congress made Armistice Day an official holiday dedicated to world peace.
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.
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.”
Fifty years after the armistice agreement, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, which moved Veterans Day off of its original Nov. 11 date and onto the fourth Monday in October. The act also declared that Memorial Day, Columbus Day and George Washington’s would be observed on Mondays throughout the year.
The new dates were meant to take effect in 1971.
Veterans Day, federally recognized for the first time on a day other than Nov. 11, is celebrated with much confusion. Many states and most veterans organizations disagreed with the date change and continued to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, which held historic and patriotic importance.
Congress passed a bill changing the observation of Veterans Day back to Nov. 11, where it has remained for the 43 years since.
Much has changed in the 99 years since Armistice Day was first observed.
Now we honor not just servicemen, but servicewomen. Our wars are not fought with cannons, but drones. The war to end all wars didn’t end war at all. Soldiers have fought and died all over the globe.
But through the last century, despites its different names and dates, the purpose of Veterans Day has remained the same — to say thanks.