On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, World War I ended. This day became known as "Armistice Day." In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Similarly, unknown soldiers had been buried in England at Westminster Abbey and at France at the Arc de Triomphe. All of these memorials took place on November 11th to commemorate the end of the "war to end all wars."
In 1926, Congress resolved to officially call November 11th Armistice Day. Then in 1938, the day was named a national holiday. Soon afterwords war broke out in Europe, and World War II began.
Armistice Day Becomes Veterans Day
Soon after the end of World War II, a veteran of that war named Raymond Weeks organized "National Veterans Day" with a parade and festivities to honor all veterans. He chose to hold this on Armistice Day. Thus began annual observances of a day to honor all veterans not just the end of World War I. In 1954, Congress officially passed and President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veteran's Day. Due to his part in the creation of this national holiday, Raymond Weeks received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Ronald Reagan in November 1982.
In 1968, Congress changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. However, the significance of November 11 was such that the changed date never really got established. In 1978, Congress returned the observance of Veterans Day to its traditional date.
Honoring VeteransOn Memorial Day, 1958, two unidentified soldiers were interred at Arlington National Cemetery having died in World War II and the Korean War. In 1984, an unknown soldier who died in the Vietnam War was placed next to the others. However, this last soldier was later exhumed, and he was identified as Air Force 1st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie. Therefore, his body was removed. These unknown soldiers are symbolic of all Americans who gave their lives in all wars. To honor them, an Army honor guard keeps day and night vigil. Witnessing the changing of the guards at Arlington National Cemetery is a truly moving event.
Celebrating Veterans Day
National ceremonies commemorating Veterans Day occur each year at the memorial amphitheater built around the Tomb of the Unknowns. At 11 AM on November 11, a color guard representing all military services executes “Present Arms” at the tomb. Then the presidential wreath is laid upon the tomb. Finally, the bugler plays taps.
Each Veterans Day should be a time when Americans stop and remember the brave men and women who have risked their lives for the United States of America. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "...it is well for us to pause, to acknowledge our debt to those who paid so large a share of freedom's price. As we stand here in grateful remembrance of the veterans' contributions we renew our conviction of individual responsibility to live in ways that support the eternal truths upon which our Nation is founded, and from which flows all its strength and all its greatness."