This history of Veteran’s Day was provided by Bert Toepel at one of our meetings around Veteran’s Day. Thank you, Bert!
World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
The following year, President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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…”
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. I can recall in school in the late 1930s that my class did observe a moment of silence at that hour on November 11.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, that made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
However, the Uniform Holiday Bill and signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.
The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so the annual observance of Veterans Day was returned to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of the day of the week. This not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
In summary, no one better understands the relationship between individual freedom, opportunity for achievement, dignity and strength than our Armed Forces than does the veteran. Through every war our soldiers, seamen, marines and airmen have held this nation’s destiny in their hands. They have not failed us. They cherish freedom enough that they are willing to die for it.
Thanks to each of you who has served our great nation. I salute you.
Bert Toepel, US Army (Ret)
(Bert served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1979. He was an artilleryman and aviator, and served in various locations in the U.S., Alaska, Korea and Vietnam.)