How Veterans Day came to be federal holiday


By Harold B. Wolford - Veterans Corner



Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all United States veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that most Americans confuse this holiday with Memorial Day. What’s more, some Americans don’t know why we commemorate our veterans on Nov. 11. It’s important that all Americans know the history of Veterans Day so that we can honor our former service members properly.

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. Fighting had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “The War to End All Wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 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 nations…”

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 Nov. 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.”

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 federal 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. In 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the United States’ history; and 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, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

A lot of people think it’s “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day,” but they’re wrong. The holiday is not a day that “belongs” to one veteran or multiple veterans, which is what an apostrophe implies. It’s a day for honoring all veterans, so no apostrophe is needed.

Later that same year, on Oct. 8, 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, President Eisenhower 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 Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure 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 Oct. 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 Sept. 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 Nov. 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 Nov. 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to Nov. 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.

The Delaware County Board of Commissioners will rededicate the newly restored Delaware County Veterans Memorial outside the Delaware County Historic Courthouse on Nov. 11. Veterans Day will be the main focus of the ceremony. In essence, the ceremony will be a mix of the two military holidays. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Veterans and the public are invited and encouraged to attend the ceremony. Event will be approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

North Sandusky Street in front of the Historic Courthouse and Court Street will be closed to traffic. This will allow for safety and social distancing. Chairs will be provided by the county. You may also bring your own chair, if you would like. A sound system will be setup to insure attendees can easily hear.

To all my brothers and sisters in arms, Welcome Home!

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By Harold B. Wolford

Veterans Corner

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at harold@wolfordhome.com.

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at harold@wolfordhome.com.