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Before our time, it was called Armistice Day. The Cambridge Dictionary defines an armistice as ”a formal agreement between two countries or groups at war to stop fighting for a particular time, especially to talk about possible peace.” 

It first commemorated the end of World War I.

I personally applaud any endeavor that “talk(s) about possible peace.” In this case, such talks precipitated the official ending of World War I when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. The fighting, however, had ended about seven months before that when the Allied Forces and Germany agreed to an armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.   

That explains why November 11, 1918, was considered the end of “the war to end all wars” and came to be called Armistice Day. It was finally in 1926 that Congress officially recognized it as the end of the war, and in 1938, it became an official holiday to honor veterans of World War I.

As we now know, it was not “the war to end all wars.” Soon came World War II and then, shortly after, the Korean War happened. After the lobbying of several veterans organizations, on June 1, 1954, Congress again amended the commemoration by changing the word “armistice” to “veterans” in order to honor American veterans of all wars.  

Like all good ideas, someone thought they had a better one. So, The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968. The intension was 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. 

The thinking was that such extended weekends encouraged travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulated greater industrial and commercial production. The many states that did not agree with this decision just continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

It didn’t take long for it to  become apparent that most U.S. citizens wanted to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, since it was a matter of historic and patriotic significance.

So once again another idea prevailed when on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed another law (Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479)), which returned the annual observance to its original date starting in 1978.

Inasmuch as World War I was a multinational effort, it made sense that our allies also wanted to celebrate their veterans on Nov. 11. Both Canada and Australia call Nov. 11 “Remembrance Day.” 

Canada finds many of its citizens wearing red poppy flowers based on the poem, “In Flanders Fields,”(but that is another story) to honor their war dead. Some in the USA do the same. In Australia, the day is similar to our Memorial Day.

Veterans Day honors all who have served our country in war or peace, dead or living, although it’s mostly intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices. 

The words of former President Obama are a good reminder to us: "It's about how we treat our veterans every single day of the year. It's about making sure they have the care they need and the benefits that they've earned when they come home. It's about serving all of you as well as you've served the United States of America."

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Email questions to jjohnson@orourkemediagroup.com.

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