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At 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 in Versailles, France, armistice was declared between the Allies and the Germans, ceasing World War I, known as the “Great War.” This day was remembered and commemorated the following year by President Woodrow Wilson. In his message to the nation that day he stated, “The soldiers and people of the European allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed forces. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half….[We] assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory…Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”1
While the declaration of naming the anniversary of the cessation of World War I, Armistice Day had transpired, it did not officially become a national day of observance until June 4, 1926 when Congress adopted the resolution in the hopes that President Calvin Coolidge would embrace it. This did not seem to happen. However, on May 13, 1938 a Congressional Act was passed and the day became a federal holiday.
The holiday retained its namesake of Armistice Day. It was not until after World War II that the proposal to rename the holiday to the more inclusive “Veterans Day” was introduced by veteran Raymond Weeks to General Dwight Eisenhower, who encouraged the idea. As with declaring Armistice Day a federal holiday, the renaming of the commemorative holiday took time. It was not until Congress amended the original bill on May 26, 1954 that the holiday became “Veterans Day.”2
This event also led to the inadvertent change in the meaning of “Memorial Day” which was originally called “Decoration Day” and honored the Civil War dead and veterans.3 With “Veterans Day” honoring all veterans from every war, “Memorial Day” now leans more towards honoring the dead from war.
In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved both Veterans Day and Memorial Day to Mondays instead of their specific dates of November 11th and May 30th. And while Memorial Day continues to be observed on the 4th Monday of May, in 1978 observance for Veterans Day was reinstated to November 11th.
Therefore, on this Veterans Day be sure to hug a vet today and say THANK YOU! (And their families too).