November 11th is Veterans Day in America and it is a day to remember all who have served in the United States military and celebrate their courage and sacrifice. It is a day to listen to their stories and learn what it means to serve something higher than oneself and also to learn of the hardships they endured so that we might better appreciate what their service helps to safeguard. Here are a few Veterans Day facts that will help you understand the history and significance of this national holiday.
What many Americans may not realize is that Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day. World War I, known across the world as “The Great War”, officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on June 28, 1919. The fighting, however, had ended seven months prior with a ceasefire, or armistice, which went into effect at 11 o’clock on November 11, 1918. It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month. In Europe, November 11 is still known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in Canada.
The Red Poppy
The Red Poppy is a symbol of both remembrance and hope for a peaceful future. (Click to Tweet this)
It was chosen as a symbol due to the fact that, during the horrendous fighting in the European trenches, the land was blasted and bombed into a muddy, barren, bleak landscape where little to nothing could grow. The bright red Flanders poppies were the notable exception and flourished in the fields where so much destruction had occurred, creating a striking juxtaposition of fragile beauty against the destroyed scenery.
In the Spring of 1915, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, shortly after losing a friend to the fighting, was moved by the sight of the poppies and composed a now famous poem, ‘In Flanders Fields.’
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. (Click to Tweet this)
When Did Veterans Day Become a Federal Holiday?
The United States, like Britain, France, and Canada, observed Armistice Day as a day of remembrance with a Congressional resolution signed on June 4, 1926.
In 1938, Veterans Day became a legal national holiday and was meant to remember those who fought and died in World War I. (Click to Tweet this)
However, after World War II required an even greater American mobilization and sacrifice, followed by the war in Korea, the 83rd Congress in 1954, at the urging of veterans service organizations amended the Act of 1938 by replacing the word “Armistice” with “Veterans” so that it may encompass and honor American veterans of all wars.
How Did the Uniform Holidays Bill Affect Veterans Day?
On June 28, 1968, The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed with the intention of making three-day weekends for Federal employees on four national holidays: Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. (Click to Tweet this)
It was believed that these extended weekends would help stimulate the economy by encouraging travel, recreational activities, and cultural events, thus increasing commercial and industrial production.
The first Veterans Day under this law was on October 25, 1971 which created a great deal of confusion and not a small amount of outrage that the historical significance of November 11 had been ignored. In response, President Gerald Ford returned Veterans Day to its original date of November 11 beginning in 1978. (Click to Tweet this)
Veterans Day Ceremonies and Parades
Every Veterans Day, Arlington National Cemetery, which is home to the grave of more than 400,000 people, most of whom served in the military, holds an annual memorial service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Click to Tweet this)
Ceremonial units for each of the Armed Services and foreign dignitaries lay wreaths at the Tomb to pay respects to the sacrifices of America’s veterans. Veteran service organizations also lay wreaths at the many other memorials in the cemetery. (Click to Tweet this)
Across the nation, parades are held in which veterans of every generation march with pride to the applause of all who gather. The largest parade is typically in New York City, beginning in Madison Square Park at the Eternal Light Flagstaff, which was erected on November 11, 1923 to commemorate Armistice Day. (Click to Tweet this)
The parade, which is nationally televised, draws thousands of revelers, state dignitaries, the heads of the Armed Forces, and even the President of the United States. It begins with a ceremonial wreath laying at the Eternal Light Flagstaff Memorial and proceeds up Fifth Avenue past the New York Public Library. (Click to Tweet this)
More Veterans Day Facts
We know how much you, our readers, love the handfuls of interesting and entertaining facts we always put into these history and holiday articles. So we’re happy to share some of our favorite tidbits and fun Veterans Day facts.
- Veterans Day does not have an apostrophe (it is not Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day) because the holiday does not belong to one or multiple veterans which the apostrophe would imply. It is a day for honoring ALL veterans. (Click to Tweet this)
- Veterans Day is not the same as Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a day to remember specifically those, “who gave the last full measure of devotion” to quote Abraham Lincoln. Veterans Day is a day to remember all who served, in war or at peace, dead or alive. (Click to Tweet this)
- There are roughly 18.2 million living veterans who have served in at least one war as of 2018. (Click to Tweet this)
- 9 percent of veterans are women. (Click to Tweet this)
- More than 7 million veterans served during the Vietnam War, the last war in which there was a national draft. (Click to Tweet this)
- 3 million veterans have served during the War of Terror. (Click to Tweet this)
- As of 2018, of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, only around 490,000 are still alive with the number shrinking rapidly every year. (Click to Tweet this)
- 2 million Americans served during the Korean War. (Click to Tweet this)
Veterans Day is a day to appreciate and thank those who served. (Click to Tweet this)
One of the best ways to do this is to take some time to listen to their stories. While “thank you’s” and applause are appreciated by those marching in the parades, the sacrifices made by those who served deserve to be heard and kept alive through stories. Every veteran has a story to tell and when those stories come together they weave a narrative of our country and its struggles. They teach lessons learned through hardship and sacrifice. By listening and appreciating, we can keep the memories of all who served alive.
Enjoy this Veterans Day, these Veterans Day facts, and perhaps take a moment of silence at 11 o’clock to give thanks to those who served that we here in America have not had to look over a destroyed landscape sprinkled with red poppies. (Click to Tweet this)
More like this: What Is Veterans Day? Honoring All Who Served
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