In honor of Veterans Day Julie King brings us a brief history of this important day to veterans.
Everyone who knows me knows that Veterans Day is my favorite holiday because I am a veteran. I am a Vietnam Era veteran. I did not go to Vietnam, which is why I am a Vietnam Era vet, not a Vietnam veteran. Nonetheless, I was trained as a combat medic who could function in a combat zone. I served in the Army from 1974-1978.
Now, in 2014, as I participate in this Veterans’ Writing Group, I begin to look at my service time from a distance, and I look at my words: “Veterans Day is my favorite holiday” in a new light. Why would Veterans Day be a “holiday?” What is a holiday? Simply a day off?? Isn’t “holiday” a word that implies frivolity and celebration?
Well, I Google-ed the history of Veterans Day and found that I knew very little, if anything, of the history of America’s Veterans Day. Here is what I found on the military.com/veterans-day/history site:
“Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, November 11 was dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’ As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans.”
Now, I am fascinated with what I did not know—November 11th was called Armistice Day and is “dedicated to the cause of world peace” ?!? I keep reading because I do know that contrary to the public opinion of the time, World War I was not the war to end all wars, so…
So, unless the government created a separate legal holiday for veterans of every war that followed, Armistice Day was too limited in scope. World War I was followed by World War II and World War II by all of the wars and conflicts since. And now, back to the military.com site.…
“In 1954, after having been through World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word ‘Armistice’ and inserting the word ‘Veterans.’ With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.”
In 1954!! “To honor all veterans of all wars [italics mine]”! Vietnam had not even happened yet. But, in 1954, the 83rd Congress “at the urging of the veterans service organizations” established Veterans Day, and the scope of Armistice Day had been broadened to include the future.
Fourteen years later, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed. It determined on what date certain national holidays would be legally celebrated, and Veterans Day was one of those holidays. I never knew this! I have always told people that Veterans Day is one of the few national holidays, if not the only national holiday that ALWAYS falls on November 11th, the day it was established. ALWAYS! And, now, my research tells me I am wrong. Under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that was passed in 1968, “Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October.” Again I return to the military.com site’s history of Veterans Day:
In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act “ensured three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971.”
“Many” states (I wonder how many and which ones?) disagreed and continued to celebrate Veterans Day on its original date. No wonder there was “much confusion” over Veterans Day in 1971. I have no doubt that the same veterans’ service organizations that urged the 83rd U.S. Congress to amend the Armistice Act of 1938 and the refusal of the many states’ to recognize the fourth Monday on October as Veterans Day had much to do with President Ford’s decision in 1975. I defer again to the military.com website:
“Finally on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on Nov. 11.”
How enlightening and humbling facts can be. My ALWAYS, as in ‘Veterans Day has always been on November 11th,’ has been an always only since 1978, the year I was honorably discharged from the Army. And I guess I never paid much attention to Veterans Day before or during my service, only after. That Veterans Day has always been recognized on November 11th has been the one Veterans Day piece of trivia that I shared with the public or anyone else who would listen, and it and I were incorrect! But knowledge is power, and now I can accurately explain the history of Veterans Day to anyone interested in its history.
As I’ve related what I’ve learned about Veterans Day to friends from all walks of life over the past few days and weeks, I have received interesting responses. Most people were unaware of the history of Veterans Day, as was I, a veteran! unaware that it used to be called something else, unaware that the original Armistice Day was dedicated to the cause of world peace, unaware that from 1971-1977 it was legally recognized on the last Monday of October, unaware of the major role that veterans’ service organizations and the refusal of many states to acknowledge Veterans Day on the last Monday of October played in the history of Veterans Day. Unaware, but not anymore.
As for what Veterans Day means to me and to other veterans of “all wars” and of peacetime service, well, just ask us. I suspect all of our answers will be different on a personal level, but quite similar on a national level.
I wish all veterans everywhere a peaceful Veterans Day. Thank you for your service.