Veterans Day Facts, Misconceptions, and History

A WWI veteran salutes the crowd during a Veterans Day parade.

Today is Veterans Day, and it marks the 101st anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.

Since then, Veterans Day has become the time at which the nation pauses to honor and thank all veterans for their service, particularly living veterans.

This sense of thankfulness is marked by parades and church services; in many schools there are special assemblies held to honor veterans.

In some parts of the country the American flag is hung at half-mast; in other parts a period of silence at 11:00 am and lasting two minutes is occasionally observed.

By the same token, there are a number of mistaken ideas about Veterans Day that need to be addressed; here are some Veterans Day facts to set them straight. 

 

Veterans Day Facts

1. There is no apostrophe

There is no apostrophe in Veterans Day.  A lot of people and organizations seem to think the correct spelling is “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day.”  Today does not belong to one veteran or multiple veterans, which is what the apostrophe clearly suggests. The holiday honors all veterans – and it needs no apostrophe.


2. Today is Veterans Day, Not Memorial Day  

Confusing these two days seems to be more apparent than not, and many veterans (this one included) find this inability to distinguish between Veterans Day and Memorial Day to be inexcusable.

As indicated earlier, Veterans Day honors those who have served in the military during war or peace, whether they are alive or not. On the other hand, Memorial Day is the time set aside for Americans to remember those who have given their lives in defense of this nation. This difference is not insignificant.


3. Armistice Day Came Before Veterans Day

World War I officially ended on June 28, 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  But many Americans remembered November 11, 1918 – then referred to as Armistice Day – as the day in which the Great War ended.

President Woodrow Wilson understood, and one year later on November 11, 1919 he signed a proclamation commemorating the end of the fighting in World War I as Armistice Day.

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations ….

The day was to be observed with parades and public meetings, along with a brief two minute pause at 11:00 am, the time at which combat operations ended in 1918. For the next few decades, Armistice Day recognized only those who had served in World War I.

Always a body that talks quickly but acts slowly, Congress finally recognized Armistice Day on June 4, 1926 when it passed a resolution (44 Stat. 1982) that the…

recurring anniversary of [November 11, 1918] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.

The resolution also belatedly directed the president to issue an annual proclamation calling for the observance of Armistice Day.

On May 13, 1938 Congress squared the circle by approving an act (52 Stat. 351;5 US Code, Sec. 87a) making November 11 a legal, federal holiday.


A former Special Forces soldiers pauses at The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall during a Veterans Day observance. Credit: John Simpson.

4. Veterans Day Appeared in 1954

Of all the Veterans Day facts, a lot of people don’t know that we’ve only been officially celebrating Veterans Day for 65 years. And it was because of World War II. 

Most historians are in agreement that the travesty that was the Treaty of Versailles led to World War II. 

During that conflict, the United States engaged in the greatest mobilization of Army (both land and air), Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel in its history as more than 16 million individuals served. 

Not long after the end of the Second World War and the struggle for world control between Russia and the United States, the Korean War began; another 5.7 million individuals served.

After intense lobbying from burgeoning veterans’ service organizations, in 1954 Congress amended the 1938 act that make Armistice Day a holiday by striking the word “Armistice” in favor of the word “Veterans.”

On June 1, 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed HR 7768 to make the word change and to mark November 11th  as the day to honor American veterans of all wars.


5. The date has moved around a bit

The final Veterans Day fact is that we haven’t always celebrated Veterans Day on November 11. The travel industry – and others – liked the idea of three day weekends, so it lobbied Congress to create the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Congressional cupidity concerning campaign contributions soon led that body to pass the act in June, 1968, and to be effective in 1971. 

The act moved Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and, yes, Veterans Day to Mondays.  As per the act, Veterans Day in 1971 would be observed on the last Monday of October.

Not surprisingly, veterans and veterans’ organization were unhappy.  Also, a number of state legislatures wisely thought otherwise and ignored Congress by celebrating the Veterans Day on November 11th.

President Gerald Ford, a veteran, understood.  To that end, on September 20, 1975 he signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479) restoring today to its original date, effective in 1978.

Since then, Veterans Day has been honored on November 11 (ironically a Monday this year), regardless of the day of the week on which it falls.

Regardless of what day of the week Veterans Day occurs, we have the opportunity to honor all veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Happy Veterans Day.


For more, read the 19 best quotes about veterans for Veterans Day. 

 

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