The guns of World War I fell silent at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, when an armistice ended more than four years of war. A year later, most of the 4 million American Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who served in the war had returned home. An urge to observe the first anniversary of the war’s end and honor those who served grew throughout the country.
President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation on Nov. 11, 1919, that commemorated the end of the Great War. Parades, public gatherings and pausing for a few moments at 11 a.m. would mark the day.
From Armistice to Veterans Day
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918, World War I came to an end. In honor of this significant moment in history, we in the U.S. celebrate and remember all of the brave men and women who have served in the armed forces on November 11 as Veterans Day. This public holiday coincides with Armistice Day, which is a national holiday in many of the other countries, and once was one in the United States.
On the first anniversary of the truce between the Allied and Central Powers ending World War I, Woodrow Wilson issued a special message on Armistice Day to commemorate the heroic soldiers who fought in the war. Congress later made November 11 a public holiday “to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”
After World War II, Raymond Weeks, a Navy veteran from the war, organized a day of festivities on November 11, 1947, in Birmingham, Alabama, to celebrate all veterans who had served in the United States armed forces, not just those who fought in World War I. Weeks was so dedicated to the idea that he sent petitions and letters to Congress, and the President advocating for the national public holiday.
Inspired by Weeks’s passion and enthusiasm, Representative Ed Rees of Kansas introduced a bill to Congress to officially change November 11 from a day that only commemorated veterans from World War I to a celebration of all military veterans.
Weeks finally saw his dreams of a day dedicated to honoring all military veterans come to fruition on May 26, 1954, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law designating November 11 as a day to memorialize veterans who represented and fought for the United States in any war. Just a few days later, on June 1, Congress altered the formal name of the holiday from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.”
“The reflection 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 nations,” Wilson’s proclamation stated.
Congress in 1938 made Armistice Day a legal holiday, and it remained a day to recognize the service of World War I veterans. Congress expanded the day in 1954 to honor the more than 21 million Americans who served in World War II and the Korean War. President Dwight Eisenhower, in his 1954 Veterans Day Proclamation, called upon all Americans to observe Nov. 11 as Veterans Day to honor all American veterans of all wars.
“On this 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,” Eisenhower said, “and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” Katie Lange of DOD takes a closer look: