The History of Veterans Day

Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th to thank and honor the brave veterans who risked their lives for their country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 21 million veterans in the United States, all of whom have made huge sacrifices and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Veterans Day is a large part of that effort.

Still, veterans face many issues upon their return home and it’s not an easy process of adjustment. There are many ways we can support our veterans, starting with appropriate ways of celebrating Veterans Day.

Here, we’ll share a brief history of Veterans Day, the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as well as some traditional and new ways to celebrate Veterans Day with some ideas of what you can do when November 11th rolls around.

Veterans Day: A Brief History

Veterans Day was originally named Armistice Day since armistice is the word for a formal agreement of warring parties to cease fighting. In short, it was a day to celebrate peace after wartime.

Observations of this day began after World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, or November 11, 1919. All business would stop at 11:00 a.m. for two minutes and throughout the day, parades and public gatherings were held.

Legislators didn’t make Armistice Day an official holiday until 1938 but the new national holiday was still specifically in effect to only honor World War I veterans as well as unknown soldiers, the latter of which is still a tradition observed today.

Worldwide, Veteran’s Day or Armistice Day is sometimes known as Remembrance Day and they’re all celebrated around the same time of year to mark the end of World War I in which most of the world’s forces participated.

Then, in 1954, as the United States had just come out of both World War II and the Korean War, officials saw the need for a national holiday that would recognize all U.S. veterans, not only those who served in the First World War.

The 83rd U.S. Congress amended the Act of 1983 that put Armistice Day into legislation by switching it to Veterans Day. The bill was approved on June 1, 1954, and from then on, Veterans Day became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

This letter was written by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Administrator of Veteran’s Affairs, Harvey V. Higley designating him as Chairman of the newly established Veterans Day National Committee. It read as follows:

The White House Office
October 8, 1954

Dear Mr. Higley:

I have today signed a proclamation calling upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954 as Veterans Day. It is my earnest hope that all veterans, their organizations, and the entire citizenry will join hands to insure proper and widespread observance of this day. With the thought that it will be most helpful to coordinate the planning, I am suggesting the formation of a Veterans Day National Committee. In view of your great personal interest as well as your official responsibilities, I have designated you to serve as Chairman. You may include in the Committee membership such other persons as you desire to select and I am requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch to assist the Committee in its work in every way possible.

I have every confidence that our Nation will respond wholeheartedly in the appropriate observance of Veterans Day, 1954.

Sincerely,
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Fourteen years later, in 1968, the Uniforms Holiday Bill was passed giving three-day weekends to federal employees for Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It meant that each of these days should fall on a Monday, ensuring the long weekend.

Under this bill, Veterans Day got changed from its original date on November 11th to the fourth Monday of October. With much confusion, Veterans Day of 1971 was observed on October 25th.

After only a few years of this, on September 20, 1974, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that returned Veterans Day to its rightful place on November 11th due to the date’s historical significance, starting in 1978 which is where it has remained ever since.

Although Veterans Day is also a time to remember veterans who have since passed away (although those who died in battle are remembered on Memorial Day), the holiday on the 11th of November tends to be reserved for thanking and honoring living veterans who served honorably in the military, no matter if they served during wartime or in times of peace.

This leads us to explain the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day since the two are often confusing. Let’s explore them both.

What’s the Difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

If you’re confused about the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, don’t worry – you’re not alone. You’re most likely aware that they both have something to do with the military but you might not understand the actual differences between these two holidays and what they stand for.

To honor our veterans properly and celebrate these national holidays appropriately, it’s important to know what each of these days is about. Here’s some explanation to shed some light on the topic.

First of all, Veterans Day falls on November 11th every year while Memorial Day happens on the last Monday in May. So, the first step to getting it right is knowing when is what.

As we mentioned, Veterans Day is a day to honor American veterans who have fought in all wars and served honorably in the military. On the other hand, Memorial Day is observed to honor all those who died while serving in the military. It’s an important distinction that should be made clear and a good way to remember the difference is by focusing on the word “memorial.”

You hold a memorial for those who have passed away and Memorial Day is just like holding an annual memorial for all the brave soldiers that have been lost fighting for freedom.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. After the Civil War, it became tradition, especially for women, to go to the graves of fallen soldiers and decorate their headstones with flowers and ribbons to honor their memories.

Then, in 1874, the first Memorial Day was officially celebrated as Confederate Memorial Day. It was the southern states who felt it important to observe a holiday which celebrated the memories of fallen Confederate soldiers.

It wasn’t until much later, after World War II, that other states started to catch on to this idea of a Memorial Day for fallen military service members. Still, Memorial Day wasn’t fully adopted into law until 1971. Perhaps it took such a long time due to its uncomfortable past and being so closely associated with the Confederate States of the Civil War.

For a while, politicians took Memorial Day as an opportunity to discuss these uncomfortable Civil War conversations but eventually, it became well understood that Memorial Day wasn’t a celebration of the Confederacy but a way to honor and memorialize all fallen American soldiers of all wars worldwide.

It should also be noted that Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and is often celebrated with backyard BBQs and parties on the beach. People still decorate the graves of soldiers who have perished in battle and the national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. every Memorial Day.

So, now that it’s clear that Veterans Day honors all veterans, living and dead, and Memorial Day honors all soldiers who have died in battle or service to the country, what’s the appropriate way to celebrate Veterans Day?

How Veterans Day is Celebrated

To explain how Veterans Day is celebrated, first, let’s take a look at how government offices and operations deal with the holiday.

Since Veterans Day falls on November 11th instead of always on a first or third Monday for example, it’s possible for Veterans Day to sometimes fall on a weekend day.

So, if Veterans Day happens to fall on a Saturday, the holiday is observed on the previous Friday. If Veterans Day happens to fall on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on the following Monday. That way, citizens are given a workday off as expected from a national holiday.

Agencies which operate under the federal government offer closures for Veterans Day as established by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management while state and local government closures are determined at their respective levels.

Non-government businesses are free to close or remain open depending on how they see fit, regardless of federal, state, or local government operations.

For example, restaurants may choose to stay open on Veterans Day to give people an option to eat out on their day off from work or retail establishments might stay open to promote a special sale for the occasion.

At 11:00 a.m. on Veterans Day, a Color Guard Ceremony commences representing all branches of the military and a demonstration is held at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

On August 4, 2001, the United States Senate Resolution 143 was passed designated the week of November 11 to 17 as National Veterans Awareness Week. Created to expand educational efforts directed toward elementary and high school students, the resolution hoped to help young people understand the contributions and sacrifices of veterans.

As for actually celebrating Veterans Day, there’s no one way to do it. But, it should be said that some ways people choose to spend their Veterans Day can be quite offensive to veterans and their families. So, let’s talk about some appropriate ways to celebrate on November 11th.

Again, Veterans Day is a time to honor all veterans and thank them for their brave service. It’s an opportunity to visit war museums, volunteer at your local VA facility, or to connect with the veterans in your immediate social circle.

It’s a great day to display an American flag outside your house, attend a Veterans Day event that’s surely happening in your local community, or a chance to donate to a worthy cause that helps veterans with the issues they face daily.

Veterans are prone to PTSD and homelessness, so getting involved with charities and organizations are other great ways to celebrate Veterans Day. Simply saying, “thank you for your service” when passing by a service member in uniform is also a perfectly acceptable gesture not only on Veterans Day but every day.

Shining a Green Light for Veterans Day

A new and popular way to show your support for veterans, especially on Veterans Day, is simply by shining green light. But what does it mean and where did this idea come from?

Greenlight a Vet is a campaign that works to establish more visible support for our nation’s veterans. It was launched in 2013 by the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment, a Walmart-backed program that helps veterans with the struggles they face.

Other non-profits including the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, AmericaServes, and BlueStar Families have also gotten on board with the campaign and it’s been gaining a lot of exposure across the nation.

To give you some context, since its inception, the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment has created more than 180,000 jobs for veterans and intends to find employment for over 250,000 veterans by the year 2020. This organization is a powerful one with big dreams of helping American veterans.

The campaign itself has done wonders for increasing awareness for veterans who often become invisible once they return home. Greenlight a Vet has done extremely well on social media and hopes to get a lot more traction in the coming years.

Greenlight a Vet chose the color green to become the symbol of their campaign for a few reasons.

To start, green is the color of hope, renewal, and well-being which are all challenging aspects of veterans’ return to civilian life. Since the goal of veteran organizations like the ones involved with Greenlight a Vet is to ease their transition away from military life, green seemed to be the perfect symbol.

The color green is also representative of forward movement. Just think about it – on a traffic light, when we see the color green, we’re prompted to go. This is another way Greenlight a Vet hopes to symbolize progress and forward motion for veterans in their return to civilian living.

So, what does all of this mean?

The whole idea of Greenlight a Vet is encouraging people to switch out one lightbulb in their home or office to a green one and have it shine leading up to Veterans Day to spread awareness and spark conversations about veterans and veterans’ issues.

It’s most effective when you install a green light somewhere visible like on your front porch or in the lobby of your office space. Houseguests and business customers will surely ask about the green light out the front and it’s an opportunity to share information about the cause.

You can also show your support on a wider level by sharing your green light online. Head to the Greenlight a Vet website and tag your green light on the map to make sure that veterans all across the country can feel your support, no matter where you live.

Also, using social media is an incredible way to spread the message. Share your photos of your green-lit porch or lobby and use the hashtag #greenlightavet to inspire others to join in the conversation and switch to a green light themselves.

You can also change your profile picture on your social media channels to “glow green” to show your support for veterans in the weeks leading up to November 11th.

So, in short, participating in Greenlight a Vet is an amazing way to support veterans on Veterans Day as a new and modern way to celebrate November 11th.

Veterans’ Benefits

As a trade-off for their brave service, veterans are offered a wide range of benefits. These benefits are always changing and it’s important to understand what you’re entitled to.

Keep up with all your veterans benefits by staying up to date with the VA website and make sure you’re receiving the benefits you’ve earned.

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