Origins and History of Veterans Day
In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe).
These memorial gestures all took place on November 11 giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11:00 AM, November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day.”
Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was “the War to end all Wars,” November 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe, sixteen and one-half Americans took part, four hundred seven thousand of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle.
Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama, organized a Veterans Day parade for that city on November 11, 1947, to honor all of America's veterans for their loyal service. Later, U.S. Representative Edward H. Rees of Kansas proposed legislation changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all who have served in America’s Armed Forces.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11th as Veterans Day and called upon Americans everywhere to rededicate themselves to the cause of peace. He issued a Presidential Order directing the head of the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs, to form a Veterans Day National Committee to organize and oversee the national observance of Veterans Day.
In 1968, Congress moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. However, it became apparent that the November 11th date was historically significant to a great many Americans. As a result, Congress formally returned the observance of Veterans Day to its traditional date in 1978.
The Veterans Day National Ceremony is held each year on November 11th at Arlington National Cemetery. At 11:00 a.m., a color guard, made up of members from each of the military services, renders honors to America's war dead during a tradition-rich ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The President or his representative places a wreath at the Tomb and a bugler sounds “Taps.” The balance of the ceremony, including a "Parade of Flags" by numerous veterans service organizations, takes place inside the Memorial Amphitheater, adjacent to the Tomb.