A Brief History of Veterans Day in America
In one sense, Veterans Day has been a part of America's heritage for nearly a century. Yet in another way, Veterans Day is just a few years past its 50th birthday. For Veterans Day, you see, had its start as a slightly different holiday.
Although World War 1 officially ended in the summer of 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, an actual end to fighting had come some seven months earlier. Bullets ceased to fly the morning of Nov. 11, 1918 -- on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, to be precise -- when an armistice between Germany and the Allied Forces went into effect .
One year after this fragile peace, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, Armistice Day -- a time for the nation to celebrate victory in "the war to end all wars." Wilson did not declare Armistice to be a federal holiday, but in the years that followed, state after state chose to make the solemn anniversary a state holiday. In 1938, the United States Congress followed suit. The official end of the "war to end all wars" would be a federal legal holiday in all then-48 states.
But just a few short months later, the outbreak of another war in Europe shattered dreams of world peace. In the years that followed, millions of soldiers the world over were caught up in the fury of World War II, a conflict that ultimately entailed fighting on every continent except Antarctica. Among the soldiers were an estimated 16.5 million Americans ... more than 400,000 of whom didn't make home. And on the heals of World War II, American soldiers were once again sent across the ocean, this time to participate in the Korean Conflict. Three short years of fighting there yielded another 1.2 million casualties (not including civilian injuries and deaths). Reflected in this number were 36, 516 confirmed American deaths, more than 92,000 wounded Americans, and another 8,000 American soldiers missing in action.
Armistice Day stood as a tribute to a peace that had failed. Yet that failure came through no fault of the men and women serving under their country's flag, and it was these men and women who merited remembrance, believed Rep. Edwin K. Rees of Kansas. At Rees's urging Congress voted in 1954 to change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. World War I had clearly not been the "war to end all wars," but Veterans Day would stand as a tribute to the countless individuals who had who had risked and even laid down their own lives that their fellow Americans might live in freedom.
In 1968, Congress enacted legislation that moved the nation's official Veterans Day observance to the fourth Monday of October. Under pressure from veterans groups, however, the holiday was soon moved back to the historically significant date of November 11.
November 11 now serves as a time to thank living veterans for their service to their country and to remember the sacrifice of the many soldiers who have given their lives in the service of their country. It is both a federal legal holiday and a state holiday in all fifty U.S. states.
In Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and much of Europe, November 11 is celebrated as Remembrance Day. The United Kingdom observes two minutes of silence on November 11 to mark the end of hostilities in World War I, but honors its war veterans the second Sunday of November, Remembrance Sunday.
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