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The History of Veterans Day

November 11, 2007

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day to remind Americans of the tragedies of war. The fighting in World War I had ended a year earlier, at 11 A.M., November 11, 1918 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month).

Two years later on Armistice Day, an unknown American World War I soldier was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., in the Tomb of the Unknowns. Thousands of people came to watch the elaborate ceremonies that took place. Similar ceremonies had taken place the previous year in England and France: an unknown English soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey in London, and an unknown French soldier was buried at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution calling for the observance of Armistice Day in schools, churches, and other suitable places. Twelve years later the day was designated as a national holiday. In 1939, a year after Armistice Day became a national holiday, World War II broke out in Europe. The start of this war ended the idealistic hopes that World War I was “the war to end all wars.” Over four hundred thousand American troops died in World War II.

After the Korean War (1950–1953), during which over 36,000 Americans died, Congress considered making Armistice Day a day to commemorate veterans of all wars, not only those who served in World War I. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming the holiday a remembrance of all wars and changing its name to Veterans Day.

A law passed in 1968 moved the Veterans Day celebration to the fourth Monday in October. However, the original date, November 11, was historically significant to many Americans, and ten years later the observation of Veterans Day returned to its original date.

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