Fresh footsteps in the morning dew from a mother visiting her son’s grave are seen in the grass as tombstones stand in the background at Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, Ga. (David Goldman/AP)

Why is Veterans Day on Nov. 11?

If you remember your history, which many people don’t, fighting in World War I ended in 1918 on Nov. 11, thanks to an armistice agreement — at 11 a.m. That means the fighting ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, (though the war was not officially ended until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919).

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 a commemoration of the war, writing:

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 the nations. …

[Why Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day]

In 1938, Congress approved a bill that made Nov. 11 an annual legal holiday known as “Armistice Day” that would honor the cause of world peace, but it was primarily used to honor World War I veterans.

In 1954, the law was changed and the word “Armistice” became “Veterans” in a move to use the holiday to honor veterans of all American wars. In fact, for a time the holiday was called “All Veterans Day.” That year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated:

“In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

In 1968, Congress passed a law that established three-day weekends for federal employees by moving the commemoration of four national holidays to Mondays. Veterans Day was one of those holidays, but the move didn’t sit well with veterans and others. According to a biography of Veterans Day on the Web site of Virginia’s state government, many states continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates. It says:

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 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Incidentally, Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day in the United States. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military — in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served — not only those who died — have sacrificed and done their duty.

Here are some facts and figures about Veterans Day that the Census Bureau released in 2014: