Holiday History: Veterans Day

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The day was November 11, 1918. The armistice ending World War I—The Great War, as it was known at the time—went into effect.

Armistice Day, celebrated on November 11 each year, led to Veterans Day, which Americans celebrate today. Veterans Day is set aside to honor those who have served in the United States military.

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The first Armistice Day in the United States was observed on November 11, 1919, a year after the armistice went into effect. That was based on a proclamation from President Woodrow Wilson.

“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,” wrote Wilson.

The end of World War II brought the suggestion that Armistice Day be transformed into a broader Veterans Day to recognize those who have served and fought in all wars. An Alabama resident named Raymond Weeks first suggested the idea. Weeks organized a National Veterans Day Parade in Birmingham in 1947. That same year, he led a delegation to urge Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Army Chief of Staff, to make it a national holiday.

Eisenhower would do that formally seven years later in his role as president, when public law 380 went into effect in 1954. By that time, the United States had not only World War II to add to the remembrance, but also the Korean War.

The armistice that went into effect in 1918 was just that: a halt in the fighting, not a formal ending. It had to be extended several times before World War I ended with the signing of several treaties, most notably the Treaty of Versailles.

One treaty, the Treaty of Sѐvres in 1920, created the modern state of Turkey out of the Ottoman Empire and divided up the empire’s other pieces. It never completely went into effect and was replaced just three years later by the Treaty of Lausanne.

Those treaties, along with the Conference of San Remo, which divided the mandates for Syria, Palestine and Iraq between the French and British, failed to favorably resolve issues for the people who lived there. Those issues continue to today and have helped lead to the conflicts that created many American veterans in the 21st century.

According to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are more than 177,000 post-9/11 veterans in Florida—out of a total of 1.5 million veterans here in the state. That number also includes nearly half a million Vietnam vets.

There is a difference between Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Armed Forces Day. Veterans Day is designed to honor living military veterans. Memorial Day is to honor those who died in battle, or those who served and have since died. Armed Forces Day is generally meant to honor those actively serving in the military.

Still, today makes an excellent day to thank veterans for their service.

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