It was "the war to end all wars." Or at least that's how World War I was
viewed in November of 1918, when it was known simply as "The Great War".
And it was on the eleventh hour.. of the eleventh day.. of the eleventh
month in 1918 that fighting ended on the western front of the war
through an armistice; A day which would eventually be remembered and
recognized in the U.S. as Veterans Day.
or truce, between Allies and Germany marked the end, on the western
front at least, of a global conflict that began four years earlier and
would claim millions of lives as it spread throughout Europe.
September of 1918, Germany was facing a hopeless military situation, and
was forced to respond to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen
Points" from earlier in January. The actual terms of Wilson's policies
were primarily written by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, and included a
call for the halt in fighting, removal of German troops to within their
own borders, exchange of prisoners, promise of reparations, and the
preservation of infrastructure among the terms.
armistice ended the fighting, it would be over six months before
negotiations were complete on the Treaty of Versailles, which
officially ended the war in June of 1919, and in the meantime battles
would continue in parts of the Russian Empire on the eastern front.
In November of
1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration
of Armistice Day. In his proclamation, Wilson said:
"To us in
America, the reflections 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 the
idea for the celebration included a day of parades and public meetings,
along with a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
Then in June of 1926, the United States Congress officially recognized
the end of World War I with this resolution:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the
most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and
the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful
relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of
this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and
exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual
understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States
have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be
it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
that the President of the United States is requested to issue a
proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the
United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting
the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and
churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of
friendly relations with all other peoples.
It would not be until 1938
that Congress would approve an Act making November 11 "Armistice Day",
an official legal holiday. Honoring veterans of "The Great War"
and dedicated to the cause of world peace, Armistice Day would
continue until 1954, when at the urging of Congress and veterans
organizations, the Act was amended to remove the word Armistice and
replace it with "Veterans". The amended Act was officially
approved on June 1, 1954 making November 11 a day to honor American
veterans of all wars.
On October 8,
1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day
"In order to
insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all
veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will
wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am
designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a
Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other
persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the
national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also
requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive
branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way
Veterans Day observance continued to be recognized on November 11 until
in 1968 the Uniform Holiday Bill made changes to ensure a three day
holiday weekend for Federal employees. But Congress managed to confuse
the public with this move and many states continued to observe as they
had. When Veterans Day was federally observed on October 25, 1971
it was met with much confusion and ultimately led to a return to the
November 11 observance beginning in 1978.
In doing so,
Congress ensured that the historical significance of Veterans Day was
preserved, along with the importance of the holiday in focusing
attention on American Veterans for their tremendous sacrifices for our
nation and our freedom.
President Roosevelt and
General Pershing lead the nation in observing Armistice Day on November 11,
Photo by Harris & Ewing.
observance in the United States is different from that of November 11
observances in Europe, which continue to commemorate those who died in
war. In the U.S. the date is a celebration of all Veterans, living
or dead, regardless of conflict, and Memorial Day in May, is instead used
as a national remembrance of those Americans who have died in war.