Veteran’s Day has a very unique and somewhat strange history. It has become a uniquely American celebration in that while its roots like many nations started as a commemoration of the sacrifice of WWI vets it has become a celebration of the service of all living vets.
World War I, “The War to End all Wars” ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Subsequently, many of the nations including the US proclaimed that day a day of remembrance for up to that time, the world’s greatest war. Most English speaking countries to this day commemorate their WWI as well as their other wars’ dead on 11 November. This international celebration contributes to some Americans confusing Veteran’s Day with Memorial Day. Memorial Day commemorates the sacrifice of veterans who have died in our wars. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
After the cataclysm that was World War II, Raymond Weeks himself a WWII vet, began a campaign to include that war’s vets in the commemoration that was Armistice Day. He petitioned Dwight D. Eisenhower who supported the initiative and Veteran’s Day was first celebrated by a delegation led by Weeks in 1947 and proclaimed Veteran’s Day in 1954 after the Korean War. General Omar Bradley, ”the Soldier’s General” was the inaugural speaker. Ronald Reagan presented the Presidential Citizens Medal to Raymond Weeks, the “father of Veteran’s Day” in 1982.
A US Army article on the history of Veteran’s day states the Uniform Holiday Bill signed on June 28, 1968, tried to mandate Veteran’s Day celebrations along Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day on a Monday to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees. The change was hoped to encourage travel, recreation, cultural activities, and stimulate the economy during these “artificial” long weekends.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, many states did not agree with this decision. The U.S. Army Center of Military history reports that “forty-six states had either continued to commemorate November 11 or had reverted back to the original date based on popular sentiment.”
The first Veterans Day under the Uniform Holiday law was observed on October 25, 1971. Unpopular, confusing and with Americans desiring Veterans Day have a specific day, Veteran’s Day was returned to its original date in 1978 as a result of a law signed by Gerald Ford. It’s no wonder why the other holidays that weren’t changed have lost their significance.
Of course Vets tend to always remember those that didn’t come back and Americans that don’t know the nuances think of them also on Veteran’s Day. All in all, it’s not bad to have two days to remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.
After I remember my comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice, I’ll use this occasion to thank fellow vets. I myself have always been made uncomfortable when thanked for my service. I feel it is I who should thank my fellow citizens for the honor and to my fellow vets for the privilege to serve them in uniform.
As General Macarthur said, “I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you” about the American Veteran so I will further borrow his words.
“Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless.
His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.
But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.
In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory’s eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country…”
And finally as President Coolidge said, “The Nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”
Thank you Veterans, Thank You…