The History of Veterans Day
Posted by Sophie Barnes on
Veterans Day is almost here! Celebrated on November 11th every year, Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day in Canada, was implemented over 100 years ago. Many countries have their own versions of Veterans Day, they have just coined different titles for the holiday. So, what is Veterans Day and why do we celebrate it?
From 1914 to 1918, World War I saw unprecedented levels of bloodshed and destruction. It left people shaken and scared of the rapidly advancing warfare technology. And for good reason! By the time the war was over, more than 16 million people, both soldiers and civilians, had been killed. After four brutal years of war, people all over the world heaved a sigh of relief when the fighting finally ceased.
World War I ended after an armistice had been declared on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. Although the Treaty of Versailles was not signed until 7 months later, November 11th is still viewed as the end of the conflict. Various countries in Europe, Australia, Africa, and America proclaimed this day to be Armistice Day, and have continued to honor their fallen soldiers every year since.
Veterans Day in America
Despite being celebrated since the war ended in 1919, Armistice Day was not an official federal holiday until 1938. Only nine years later, the first “Veterans Day” celebration took place in Birmingham, Alabama when a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks organized a parade and other festivities to be celebrated on November 11th.
U.S. Representative Edward Rees then proposed a bill amending the name of the holiday. In 1954, this bill was passed and Veterans Day got its name. Now, there are nationwide parades and celebrations annually like the one Weeks coordinated in 1947.
By the time Veterans Day had its name change, “the war to end all wars” had been followed by World War II and the Korean War. This name change allowed for all veterans to be celebrated, not only the ones who had served in the first world war. While Memorial Day is for honoring soldiers who died during service, Veterans Day honors all soldiers who have served their country.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed in 1968 with the intention of boosting tourism and giving federal employees three-day holidays. Under this act, Veterans Day was to be celebrated on the fourth Monday in October. The first Veterans Day to be affected by this law was in 1971 when it was celebrated on October 25th. This caused a lot of confusion seeing as this is over 2 weeks before the actual date. By 1975, it was clear that November 11th held both historical and political significance, so Veterans Day was moved back to its original date. Should this fall on the weekend, the holiday will be observed on the closest week day instead.
In 1921, an unknown soldier was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery; this became known as the Tome of the Unknown Soldier. Today, Americans celebrate Veterans Day by holding an official wreath-laying ceremony at the Tome of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery every year. Many schools put on plays every year and invite veterans so that they may thank them for their service. Businesses and cities across America participate in parades and celebrations, as well as offering special discounts to veterans as a way to thank them for their service.
Remembrance Day in Canada
The British Empire, which Canada is part of, originally celebrated Armistice Day on the second Monday in November. After two years, this celebration moved to the Monday of the week November 11th fell. However, this often coincided with Thanksgiving, which was on the second Monday in November, so many Canadians did little to honor their soldiers. For 10 years, these holidays fell on the same day.
In 1931, A.W. Neill introduced The Armistice Day Amendment Act, which renamed the holiday to Remembrance Day and set November 11th as the fixed date. Canadians have several traditions that take place on this day, including wearing red poppies (real or artificial), reciting the poem In Flanders Fields by poet John McCrae, playing “The Last Post,” and observing two minutes of silence at 11 AM. The Royal Canadian Legion even sells red poppies and uses the proceeds to support veterans.
Many Canadians felt there should be a memorial built to honor those who had served during World War I. In 1925, a world-wide competition was held to determine what the design of the memorial would be. The objective was to create a national commemorative war monument that would represent the feelings of the Canadian people as a whole, while also paying tribute to the memory of those who served. The competition received 127 entries from across Canada, England, France, United States, Belgium, Italy, Scotland and Trinidad. The winning design was announced in 1926 by Vernon March of Farnborough, Kent England. The National War Memorial was built in the Canadian capital Ottawa, and was officially unveiled in 1939. Then, in 1982, the memorial was rededicated to include the dates of World War II and the Korean War.
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