The History of Veteran’s Day

Jessie Markovetz

The United States of America has always been a nation with a proud military tradition. Washington D.C. is replete with memorials and monuments to some of our great military leaders and soldiers. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a secretary within the President’s executive cabin. Government-funded programs have provided our soldiers with educational and employment opportunities. When compared with the rest of the world, the treatment of our soldiers has been nothing short of exemplary. With that in mind, most would find it surprising that Veteran’s Day, a national holiday created to honor the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, was created almost by accident. On November 11th, 1918, World War I officially came to an end when leaders from the Allied Powers – The United States, France, Great Britain and Italy – met in France to discuss the proper way to discipline Germany, as the defeated country. Germany, a country with a strong military, was asked to, for all intensive purposes, dismantle its armed forces. The common thought across the world was that with a weakened Germany, there would never be a need to resort to warfare again. This thought was particularly true in the United States. By this point in American history, the United States had already advanced its frontier to the Pacific Ocean and seemed like an unlikely candidate for expansion. Up until that point, the majority of American wars involved expansion. For Americans, the end of World War I, or as it was known then, The Great War, signaled the end of warfare and the start of a peaceful country and world. Immediately after the Great War, the United States experienced a technological, cultural and above all, economic boom, which later came to be known as the Roaring 20’s. These times helped to put closure to the Great War. On June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution officially ending the war. It stated that “the 11th of November 1918 marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed.” The resolution also asked for that date to be marked as a national holiday which “should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace.” On May 13, 1938, an act was passed declaring this date as “Armistice Day,” to celebrate the peace which had existed since the end of the Great War and which most had assumed would exist forever. However, as we all know, world events have continually made war an inevitability in the past 60 years.Just three years after the official declaration of Armistice Day, The United States was attacked by Japan and began a two-front war in Europe and in Asia. Germany, of course, was able to rebuild its military by this time period and had started to run roughshod through Europe. From 1941-1945, the United States participated in the most devastating and gruesome war the world has ever known. Two atomic bombs and thousands of casualties later, a pyrrhic victory in Asia and Europe made the American public forget about thoughts of Armistice. The idea of a peaceful country and world until the end of time seemed ludicrous despite the weakening of Japan and Germany. Immediately after World War II, the United States began its fight to contain Communism. The Korean War, which lasted from 1950-53 and could have nearly started a grand-scale war between the United Stated and Communist China if General Douglas MacArthur had his way, seemed to make the chances of perpetual peace all the more grim. As such, the concept of Armistice Day seemed outdated. It seemed inappropriate to celebrate a global cease-fire in a country which had just fought in two large wars. On June 1, 1954, the act of 1938 was amended to change Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day. November 11th was to be set aside each year to honor American veterans of foreign wars. From 1954 to 1970, on this date, people flocked to sites in and around Washington, D.C. and others decorated their houses with American flags to pay their respects to veterans. The response to this new holiday was completely positive and began to pave the way for new American traditions. In 1971, an act was passed to start celebrating George Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day on Mondays to encourage travel and to reward workers with three-day weekends. In 1971, Veteran’s Day was celebrated on Monday, October 25th. Due to the historical significance of November 11th, many opposed celebrating Veteran’s Day on a somewhat arbitrary date in late October or early November. Therefore, in 1978, an act was passed declaring November 11th as Veteran’s Day. Today, this date is still recognized as Veteran’s Day. In 2003, President George W. Bush issued a proclamation honoring the 50th Veteran’s Day. In his words, all Americans should use the holiday to “celebrate and honor the patriots who have fought to protect the democratic ideals which are the foundation of our country.”