Do you know why all the banks are closed? Why the post office has decided not to deliver you your mail? For most Americans it’s just another day of inconvenience that the federal government has seemed to heap upon them until someone mutters “Yes, It’s Veterans Day.”
Normally at that moment the room grows silent and heads bow. Who could have forgotten the holiday dedicated to our brave men and women, both young and old who have served our country? Memorial day was to remember our fallen, but today, Veteran’s day is to honor those who lived.
November 11, 1918 brought with it great relief, for the war to end all wars was officially over. In the early hours of November 11th, both the Allies and the Germans drew together in a small train car to negotiate a truce. The hastily pounded out terms called for cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of troops to behind their own borders, an exchange of prisoners, a promise of reparations and the protection of infrastructure, and conditions for prolonging or terminating the armistice. While the Germans officially protested the terms, they were in no position to refuse them. Official orders to sign the treaty were given by Hindenburg himself and were carried out between 0510-0520 Paris time. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 the Armistice took effect. The Great war was over.
A Time to Remember
In 1919 to mark the anniversary of the Armistice, a two minute suspension of business (starting at 11am) was planned. Parades and public meetings followed suit. President Woodrow Wilson, in honor of the day, declared, “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.”
In 1921, congress approved an erection of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. A ceremonial date of November 11 was chosen to honor those who had been interred there. By October 20th, congress had decided that the November 11th ceremony should go beyond that of honoring the dead. They declared the day a federal holiday in honor of all those who had participated in the war.
Roughly 20 years after the Armistice truce was signed, and nearly 17 years after originally declaring November 11th a federal holiday, congress passed official legislation (Act of 1938) that declared November 11th a permanent legal holiday at the federal level*. It was a day “…dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.”
*The United States has no 'actual' national holidays because the states retain the right to designate their own holidays. The Federal government can in fact only designate holidays for Federal employees and for the District of Columbia. But in practice the states almost always follow the Federal lead in designation of holidays.
Least We Forget
In 1954, at the urging of the veterans organizations, congress amended the Act of 1938. Congress approved new wording; instead of having an “Armistice” day, the act was changed to read a “Veteran’s” day. Approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, ensured that November 11 became a day to not only honor all American veterans of the first world war, but a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Celebrating the Day
For a brief while, in the late 1960s and throughout much of the 1970s Veteran’s day was included in a series of 4 holidays that were to be celebrate on a Monday. Veteran’s day from 1968-1978 was therefor officially observed as the 4th Monday of October.
Beginning in 1978, annual observance of Veteran’s day was restored to it’s original date and since then has always fallen on November 11. If this day falls on a non-federal work day (Saturday or Sunday), the holiday is then observed the Friday before (for Saturdays) or the Monday after (for Sundays).
Many communities across the United States hold ceremonies or parades to honor the day. Several businesses provide veterans with discounts to their services…. But what matters most is how YOU choose to celebrate the day. Go ahead and share your plans below.