Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, July 8, 2024

When Did "Armistice Day" Become "Veterans Day" in the USA

The 64th Infantry Celebrating on the Original Armistice Day

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed 11 November as the first commemoration of 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 original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Veterans Marching on the First Anniversary of the
Armistice,  1919

The United States Congress later officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on 4 June 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to 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.

Twenty years after the original Armistice, an Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved 13 May 1938, made 11 November in each year 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, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, 11 November became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Later that same year, on 8 October, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation:

Nearly two decades later, there was a confusing period when Veteran's Day came un-anchored from its 11 November Armistice Day origins.

The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on 28 June 1968 and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel and recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

America's Last Veteran of the Great War,
Frank Buckles at Arlington, Veterans Day, 2006

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on 25 October 1971. It was apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, so on 20 September 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of 11 November, to begin in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations, and the American people.

Sources:  The Department of Veteran's Affairs and  the Federal Register, 12 October 1954

1 comment:

  1. As a child in the 1950's I remember standing for the minute of silence at 11:00 AM at school. Throughout my life the only time that I have gotten the day off was when I worked for the state.