Veterans Day — not to be confused with Memorial Day which honors American service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle — pays tribute to all American veterans, living or dead, but with thanks especially to living veterans who served honorably during war or peacetime.
So many times in the celebration of Veterans Day, the dead are remembered, but the living go unnoticed.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, but as far as the public was concerned, Nov. 11 was the date that marked the end of the Great War.
In November 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as “Armistice Day” as parades, public gatherings and other activities marked the holiday. On Nov. 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Congress had declared the day a legal federal holiday to honor all those who served in the war. (On the same day, unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.)
Congress passed a resolution on June 4, 1926, that the “recurring anniversary [of Nov. 11, 1918] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations,” and the president should call for the observance of Armistice Day. Already, 27 state legislatures had made Nov. 11 a legal holiday and on May 13, 1938, the day became a legal Federal holiday — “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”
So how did Armistice Day come to be Veterans Day? The 83rd U.S. Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday, (following efforts by American veterans) and changed the word “Armistice” to “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954. From then on, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
But in 1968, Congress — to make three-day weekends for federal employees and encourage tourism — passed the Uniform Holidays Bill for celebration of the four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day.
Veterans Day was set as the fourth Monday in October and the first Veterans Day under the new law was Oct. 25, 1971. Since many states disapproved of this change, they continued to observe the holiday on its original date. For many Americans, the actual historical date of Veterans Day embodied patriotic importance, and in 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed the law which returned the observation of Veterans Day to Nov. 11.