Every year on November 11th we observe Veterans Day. This day is set aside to honor all veterans, living or dead, in war or peacetime, who have honorably served their country.
But Veterans Day was not always known by this name; was not always celebrated on this date; and is not a uniquely American holiday.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice ending The Great War, which had killed more than 15 million. Approximately 120,000 of the war dead were Americans.
The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war, was signed on June 28, 1919.
On November 10, 1919, King George V of England proclaimed Armistice Day, in commemoration of the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. The armistice would be commemorated with two minutes of silence at 11 a.m., the hour the agreement had gone into effect.
Belgium, France, Canada and Australia also use the date to honor their veterans. France still calls November 11 “Armistice Day.” Canada and Australia observe “Remembrance Day,” and Great Britain has Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday of November).
On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation that commemorated the end of World War I.
In proclaiming the holiday, he said, “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.”
2019 marks the 100th year since President Wilson proclaimed Armistice Day a holiday.
Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and in 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday.
In 1953, Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kansas proposed changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day, to recognize veterans from all wars and conflicts. In 1954, Congress expanded the holiday to honor the 21 million Americans who served in World War II and the Korean War.
In his 1954 Veterans Day Proclamation, President Dwight Eisenhower called upon all Americans to observe November 11 as Veterans Day to honor all American veterans of all wars.
"On this day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly on the seas, in the air and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom," Eisenhower said, "and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."
In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed by Congress, which moved several holidays so that they fell on Mondays, giving federal employees three-day weekends.
One of the moved holidays was Veterans Day, the first of which was commemorated on Monday, October 25, 1971. Due to the unpopularity of the law, in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law moving Veterans Day back to November 11. The law took effect in 1978.
Dog lovers will be thrilled to know that military working dogs get their own Veterans Day on March 13. Although the holiday is unofficial, many observe it to honor the K-9 Corps which was founded in 1942 during World War II.