History of Veterans Day
Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the
end of hostilities. World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially
ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 , in the Palace of
Versailles outside the town of Versailles , France. However, fighting ceased seven
months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the
Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh
day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918 , is generally
regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first
commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "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
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and
public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it
passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:
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 severed, and 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
President Eisenhower signing HR7786, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the
11th of November in each year a legal holiday - - a day to be dedicated to the cause
of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day."
Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but
in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers,
sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had
fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service
organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and
inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation
(Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor
American veterans of all wars.
Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the
first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "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 possible."
On that same day, the President sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley,
Administrator of Veterans' Affairs (VA), designating him as Chairman of the
Veterans Day National Committee.
In 1958, the White House advised VA's General Counsel that the 1954 designation
of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee
applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was
elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served
as the committee's chairman.
The Uniforms Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June
28, 1968, and was intended to insure three-day weekends for Federal employees by
celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial
Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended
weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate
greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this
decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.
The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on
October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a
matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so
on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89
Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original
date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the
overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations
and the American people.
Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of
the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to
November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps
focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor
America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve
and sacrifice for the common good.