There are quite a few people in my family who are or have been in the military. My grandpa and many of my great uncles served in World War II. Several of my cousins have been or still are in the Air Force. I’m proud of all these men and I think about them on Veterans Day, but honestly, I’ve never really known what the day was really about. So this year I thought I would do a little research and find out.
Veterans Day has been celebrated for nearly 100 years, but it has gone through a variety of name and date changes during that time. In the beginning it was set up as a day to celebrate the implementation of armistice in The Great War (which is now known as World War I). This temporary cessation of hostilities took place between the Allies and Germany at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November, 1918.
To celebrate the anniversary of the end of The Great War hostilities, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919. The day was meant to be celebrated with parades, public meetings and a brief 2-minute suspension of all business beginning at 11:00 am.
The next year, at the suggestion of church groups, President Wilson named the Sunday nearest November 11 Armistice Day Sunday, a day on which churches should hold services in the interest of international peace.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Armistice Day was established as a legal holiday in most states. At the Federal level, the day wasn’t an official holiday until 1938, but an annual proclamation was issued by the President each year on November 11.
Armistice Day continued to be celebrated until 1954. Up until then the day had been primarily set aside to honor veterans of World War I. However, since that time, millions more people had become war veterans because of their service in World War II and the Korean War. So, Congress, at the urging of veteran’s service organizations, amended the legislation of 1938 and President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation.
In 1968, The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed to give Federal employees 3-day weekends by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. The federal observance of Veterans Day was set to take place the fourth Monday in October.
The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed on October 25, 1971. It confused many people and it quickly became apparent that it was important to people to celebrate Veterans Day on the actual day of armistice. In 1978 Veterans Day returned to November 11 and today it continues to be celebrated then, no matter what day of the week it falls on.