(ABC4) – On the 11th day of the 11th month – otherwise known as November 11 – we take time to honor our veterans. But this day hasn’t always been the Veterans Day we’ve come to know.
The day is often confused with Memorial Day, which honors Americans who gave their lives in service. Another military holiday in May, Armed Forces Day honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.
Veterans Day’s long history dates back to World War I. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs explains, the war – known then as ‘The Great War’ – officially came to an end with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. Yet technically, fighting had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice took effect.
The armistice, or a temporary cease of hostilities, between Allied nations and Germany took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Since then, November 11, 1918, is typically referred to as the end of “the war to end all wars,” according to Veterans Affairs.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as the first Armistice Day to commemorate the end of the fighting and honor veterans from The Great War. Originally, the day was to be celebrated with parades, public meetings, and a brief suspension of business starting at 11 a.m.
SLIDESHOW: The First Armistice Day: November 11, 1918
Seven years later in June 1926, Congress recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution noting November 11 should be “commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations” each year. Additionally, Congress called on all Americans to observe the day.
Armistice Day became a legal holiday in May 1938 and was meant to honor the veterans of World War I. In 1954, after World War II, veterans service organizations urged Congress to amend their 1938 act. Congress did, striking the word ‘Armistice’ and replacing it with ‘Veterans’ to honor all of the countries veterans from every war. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later issued the first ‘Veterans Day Proclamation’ to ” insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary.”
Then in 1971, the day changed again. On October 25, Veterans Day was observed, to the confusion of many, according to Veterans Affairs. This happened after the Uniform Holiday Bill passed in 1968 to grant three-day holidays for federal employees on four holidays – George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law to return Veterans Day to November 11 starting in 1978.
America isn’t alone in commemorating the day – Great Britain, France, Australia, and Canada also honor the veterans of World War I and World War II on or near November 11, according to History.com.
Since then, Americans have commemorated the service of our country’s veterans on the 11th day of the 11th month each year.