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Where did Veterans Day come from?

BACKGROUNDER | Fighting in WWI ended on Nov. 11, 1918, and was proclaimed Armistice Day

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Where did Veterans Day come from?
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Veterans Day, celebrated annually on Nov. 11, honors America’s military veterans. Communities show appreciation with parades, memorial services, and discounts at restaurants and stores. But the national holiday wasn’t always called Veterans Day, and it isn’t the only recognized day honoring military service members.

How did Veterans Day originate? World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. But fighting stopped seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Nov. 11, 1918, became known as the end of the “war to end all wars.” A year later, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day and asked Americans to reflect on the heroism of those who died and show gratitude for the U.S. and Allied effort.

When did it become a national holiday? Congress declared Armistice Day an annual holiday in 1938 to honor World War I veterans and encourage peace worldwide. The holiday became Veterans Day in 1954 following World War II and the Korean War. President Dwight Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day proclamation, asking Americans to “remember the sacrifices of all those who fought valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores to preserve our heritage of freedom.” He called Americans to promote enduring peace so that soldiers’ efforts “shall not have been in vain.”

Has it ever been celebrated on a day other than Nov. 11? The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 established four holidays—Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day—on Mondays, placing Veterans Day on the fourth Monday in October. Proponents thought Americans would travel and enjoy the country more with long weekends. But states and veterans organizations pushed for repeal of the law, and President Gerald Ford returned Veterans Day to Nov. 11 in 1978.

What happens at Arlington National Cemetery each Veterans Day? On Nov. 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in World War I was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Today on Veterans Day, the president of the United States or his representative lays a wreath at the tomb followed by an observance hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What other days honor military service? While Veterans Day ­honors all veterans, Memorial Day, observed in May and originally called Decoration Day, honors ­service members who died while defending the nation. Though not a national holiday, Armed Forces Day replaced separate Army, Navy, and Air Force days in 1950. Members of the armed forces exposed to nuclear tests or weapons are recognized on National Atomic Veterans Day.


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