For many Americans, Veterans Day is just a day off from school and work and maybe a chance to get some extra chores done around the house before the holiday season. For others, it is a day to honor our living veterans, those men and women who have served our country in the military and helped to preserve our freedoms.
Although the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I, was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France, the actual fighting ceased seven months earlier. Veterans Day is officially observed on November 11 in recognition of the day when an armistice — or temporary cessation of hostilities — ended what was then called The Great War. Germany and the Allied Powers – including the United States– signed the Armistice at Rethondes, France on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Americans celebrated the Armistice with joyful celebrations in the streets. The Library of Congress records this recollection by Boston shoemaker James Hughes: “There was a lot of excitement when we heard about the Armistice… some of them old fellas was walkin’ on the streets with open Bibles in their hands. All the shops were shut down. I never seen the people so crazy … confetti was a-flying in all directions … I’ll never forget it.”
One year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the day should be “filled with solemn pride in the solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”
On May 13, 1938, Congress voted to make November 11 a legal holiday known as Armistice Day to honor veterans of the “War to End All Wars.” Sadly, that name became outdated as another conflict inflamed the world in the 1940s. In 1954, veterans’ service organizations urged Congress to change the holiday from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.” Congress agreed to the name change, and on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor all U.S. veterans.
Many Americans blur the distinction between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, a federal holiday celebrated in May. They do have separate and distinct purposes. Veterans Day celebrates the service of U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who have died while serving in the military. Also, on the website, the U.S. Dept of Defense points out that some people misspell the holiday with an apostrophe such as in “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day.” “The holiday is not a day that “belongs” to one veteran or multiple veterans, which is what an apostrophe implies,” the website states. “It’s a day for honoring all veterans — so no apostrophe needed.”
Great Britain, Canada and Australia commemorate November 11 with “Remembrance Day.” Canada’s observance is similar to our Memorial Day. Great Britain observes the anniversary on the Sunday closest to November 11 with parades, services and two minutes of silence in London to honor those who have died in war.
No matter how you choose to spend the day this November 11, we hope you take at least a few moments to say a word of thanks for all our brave veterans.