From New York and Chicago to Cass County communities, Americans went wild with celebration with the November 11, 1918 armistice that marked the end of the Great War.
The end of this most brutal of wars was reason for celebration, and rightly so. Nonetheless, President Woodrow Wilson wanted Americans to remember the tragedy of war.
Wilson issued a proclamation, calling upon Americans to mark November 11, 1919 as Armistice Day, “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…"
That day, all business came to a halt for two minutes, beginning at 11 a.m. Passenger trains and streetcars paused. Parades and public oratory also marked the day.
In 1921, Congress approved legislation that established the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with November 11 selected as the date for the ceremony. Later that year, Congress declared November 11, 1921, as a legal federal holiday. Five years later, Congress passed a resolution directing the president to issue an annual proclamation for the observance of Armistice Day. It was not until the spring of 1938 that Congress finally passed legislation that made Armistice Day a legal federal holiday. The date was set as November 11.
World War II?and then the Korean War created millions of veterans. It was not long before veterans groups and others began to lobby for changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. This was done in 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. “On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain,” he wrote.
Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law in 1968, moving nearly all federal holidays to Mondays. As for Veterans Day, it was moved to the fourth Monday of October, beginning in 1971, a decision that was decidedly unpopular. Mississippi and South Dakota refused to go along. Louisiana and Wisconsin joined them in 1972, with seven more states in 1974 and 16 in 1975.
Congress reversed itself in 1975, ordering Veterans Day back to November 11, beginning in 1978.
As we prepare to mark Veterans Day 2013, we would do well to recall President Ronald Reagan’s words from 1982: “I urge both public ceremonies, as well as private thoughts and prayers, in recognition of the great contribution of our veterans to an America that today is an example to all nations of freedom, liberty, and democracy. On this day, let us give special consideration to those who have died in our Nation's wars and to those who have been disabled.”
Take a moment to thank the veterans you know. And when you see men and women in uniform, go shake their hands and express your gratitude for their service. They’ve earned it!