History

A brief history of Veteran’s Day in the United States

Every year on November 11, people in the United States celebrate Veteran’s Day. It’s a special time dedicated to honoring those who have served in the armed forces. While it’s sometimes confused with Memorial Day, there are distinct differences between the two. Veteran’s Day is more than just scoring a three-day weekend off from work. It has a significant history deeply rooted in the honor and sacrifice of those who have served. Here is a brief history of Veteran’s Day and why it’s so important.

The first Veteran’s Day

Historical photo of crowd in Berlin at the end of World War 1, November 10, 1918
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The very first Veteran’s Day was celebrated in 1938 to honor the end of World War I. While the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war in June of 1919, an armistice, or ceasefire, began earlier on November 11, 1918. Originally, Veteran’s Day was called Armistice Day in honor of the ceasefire and the end of the violence. It was created to celebrate the brave people who fought in WWI.

Changing with the times

People hold up American flags
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By 1954, the United States had participated in both World War II and the Korean War. Armistice Day was intended only to celebrate WWI veterans, and all of the new veterans didn’t have a much-deserved holiday of their own. Congress passed a bill changing Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day as a way of  extending the celebration to include veterans of any war.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which gave government employees the much-loved three-day weekends for historical holidays like Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day. Because November 11 sometimes falls on the weekend, the act also changed Veteran’s Day to the fourth Monday of November. This wasn’t a popular change. Not only did it confuse everyone, but it also took away the historical significance of November 11. Finally, in 1975, President Ford returned Veteran’s Day to its rightful date where it has remained ever since.

Memorial Day vs. Veteran’s Day

American flags waving in a field
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The main distinction between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day is that Memorial Day is for commemorating the soldiers who have lost their lives in battle while Veteran’s Day honors those who are still living. Memorial Day was born of the Civil War when people needed a way to remember the family members that they’d lost. After WWI, it grew to include those lost in all wars. Memorial Day was celebrated differently in every state until it was made an official federal holiday in 1971.

Other countries that celebrate Veteran’s Day

Poppy crosses at the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance, on Remembrance Day, in London
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Because WWI was a worldwide conflict, other countries also observe November 11 as a special day to remember those who served. In Canada, November 11 is called Remembrance Day. In Great Britain, they celebrate Remembrance Sunday on the second Sunday in November. Some other countries that celebrate the end of WWI on or around November 11 include Belgium, Italy, France, and Australia.

How to celebrate Veteran’s Day

Close up of a Corporals patch as lines of U.S. Marine Corps personnel march in the annual Americas Parade up 5th Avenue on Veterans Day in Manhattan
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There is no formal way to celebrate Veteran’s Day. It’s a common misconception that flags are supposed to be flown at half-staff. Typically, flying the flag at half-staff is a symbol of mourning and respect. Since Veteran’s Day is a celebration of those who have served, the flag should remain high and proud. Flying POW/MIA flags and any military flags in addition to the U.S. Flag is a good way to show your support of the armed forces.

Every Veteran’s Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor all who have served, both living and deceased. After the ceremony, a bugler will play “Taps” followed by a parade of flags made up of members from all branches of the United States military.