Veterans Day originated in the Armistice Day holiday commemorating the November 11, 1918, armistice at 11 a.m. (hence “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”), which suspended active hostilities and effectively ended the First World War.
President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, the first Armistice Day with the following words: “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 holiday originally was intended to include parades, public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. On June 4, 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution requesting the president to issue a proclamation calling for “display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
A1938 statute designated each 11th of November a legal holiday — a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I. In 1954 — after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the nation’s history, and, after American forces had fought aggression in Korea — the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, changed the holiday’s name to its present “Veterans Day.” With this change, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation.” He wrote: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”
Unlike several other U.S. holidays now celebrated on Mondays to create long holiday weekends, Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11. This preserves the historical significance of the date and helps focus attention on the holiday’s important purpose: to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.