Tuesday, November 11, 2008
World War I, which introduced atrocities such as chemical weapons and the machine gun, end officially with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles June 29, 1918. Seven percent of the male population of Germany, nine percent of United Kingdom male population and eleven percent of the male population of France would die during the Great War. If the Treaty of Versailles, why is Veteran’s Day on November 11th? Communications on the battlefields of France were still carried out primarily by courier. Military units remained entrenched in the same area for months at a time. Therefore, even though the treaty was signed in June, fighting continued for nearly seven more months. Fighting is regarded as having finally stopped on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. 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 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. On May 13, 1938 a legal holiday was proclaimed for the 11th of November. “Armistice Day” would be a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated. 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.
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.
As you seen veterans around today, don’t wish them a Happy Veteran’s Day. Today is not a celebration as much as a remembrance of those that have served. Regardless of your feelings towards the war, take a moment and thank the men and women that served their country. You don’t have to agree with the politics of the war in which they fought. You don’t have to agree with the military. I do ask you to respect the dedication to country and service that these veterans have shown. If you are reading this and are a veteran, I salute you as a fellow veteran!
Col (ret) Robert Baylor, USAF