Wednesday, November 11th, marks the 102nd anniversary of the end of World War I. In the United States, it is also Veterans Day. This sometimes neglected national holiday coincides with other international holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day.
But all of them officially observe the end of the major hostilities of World War I on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”
Memorial Day, Veterans Day, what’s the difference?
Many Americans confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day, but the difference is actually quite simple. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May each year. This holiday honors all military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
On the other hand, though its date has changed a few times over the years, Veterans Day salutes the service of all U.S. military veterans, each November 11th. In so doing, it corresponds with the celebrations in other countries. Those countries, particularly including Europe, pay homage to the end of the fighting in World War I.
One interesting sidebar for sticklers for accuracy, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs web site states that there should be no apostrophe after the “s” in “Veterans.” That apostrophe would put the term in the possessive case. The Veterans Administration’s (VA’s) reasoning for this states that “it is not a day that ‘belongs’ to veterans, (but) it is a day for honoring all veterans.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2016, there were more than 18.5 million US military veterans. Of these, over 1.6 million were women.
As of that recent survey, approximately four million vets had disabilities. Today, veterans comprise nearly 8 percent of the nation’s adult population.
The early history of Armistice Day
World War I had been over for eight years when Congress called for ceremonies to be held on November 11 to pay homage to the WWI Armistice. By May, 1938, an act of Congress finally declared November 11 a legal federal holiday. They intended this new Federal holiday as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”
In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama, led a delegation of veterans to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. They called for the expansion of Armistice Day to honor all veterans, not just those who died in World War I.
From 1947 until his death in 1985, Weeks held an annual national celebration of his idea. But before he passed away, in 1954, Congress amended the earlier Armistice Day bill. The amended bill officially changed the holiday’s name in the United States from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.”
Now known as Veterans Day, more changes came to this holiday in the 1970s
Beginning in 1971, in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, the government moved the date for Veteran’s Day to the fourth Monday in October where it was observed until 1977.
But in 1978, the government changed Veterans Day back to its original celebration date of November 11. After over 40 years, the current date remains. But should November 11 fall on a Saturday or Sunday, the legal holiday remains November 11. However, organizations that formally observe the holiday normally close on the adjacent Friday or Monday, respectively.
Veterans Day, Liberty for the US Marines, and the question of National Election Day
For members of the United States Marine Corps, November is a big month. The Marines were founded on November 10, 1775. As such, 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the Corps. Since Veterans Day and the USMC birthday fall just one day apart each year, that branch of the Armed Forces customarily observes both occasions as a 96-hour liberty period.
Somewhat ironically, our national Election Day also occurs every four years in November. Some observers think that Since elections occur on a regular Tuesday workday, some think that Veterans Day, a Federal holiday that usually occurs the week after elections, should merge with Election Day. That way, all citizens could have the day off to vote. Many experts believe this would honor voting itself by emphasizing our democratic rights.
The recent expansion of absentee balloting and voting by mail in many states, however, might make this a moot point.
But who knows? Perhaps the “killing two birds with one stone” unification concept could, over the long term, become a powerful reminder of the blessings we enjoy by living in this glorious experiment in freedom known as the United States of America.
— Headline image: Political Cartoons by Al Goodwyn for Creators Syndicate
About the Author:
This article is a reprint of Bob Taylor’s 2019 article to commemorate Veterans Day. Updated only to reflect the date changes. Unfortunately, we lost Bob to his battle with ALS but we are keeping his voice, and articles, alive. Bob was a veteran traveler, opinion columnist, and he documented his battles with ALS.
Bob Taylor was a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
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