Veterans Day: Honoring all who served

Wednesday November 11, 2009


Americans honor and thank our Veterans every year on the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I, November 11, 1918.  An armistice or temporary halt of hostilities went into effect between the Allied nations and Germany on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 hence the significance of the 11 November date.

Regarded throughout history as the end of “the war to end all wars,” the November 11 date marked an ending to scores of bloody battles with innumerable and unspeakable destruction and casualties. 

Legislation was passed to officially acknowledge the November 11 date as Armistice Day which was intended to honor American soldiers that fought in World War I.  On 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…”

On June 4, 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution officially recognizing the end of World War I and the declaration of the 11 November holiday. Furthermore, the U.S. President issued a proclamation to all Americans to observe and celebrate Armistice Day with appropriate ceremonies.

However, America would soon see battle again as the greatest mobilization of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in the nation’s history prepared to deploy to fight in World War II. Following World War II, American forces were called again to fight aggression in the Korean War.  With two major wars following World War I, the veteran service organizations urged the 83rd U.S. Congress to amend the Act of 1938 to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. On June 1, 1954 legislation was approved as 11 November became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. 

In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

In 1968, the Uniforms Holiday Bill ensured three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the last Monday of October. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971.

Between October and November in the early to mid 1970’s, Veteran’s Day commemoration dates shifted to other days within these months in order to comply with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Many states did not agree with the date changes and were still celebrating Veteran’s Day on its original date. Understanding the patriotic and historic significance of the original Veteran’s Day date, President Gerald R. Ford drew overwhelming support from state legislatures, various veterans service organizations and the American people when he signed Public Law 94-97 to return the annual observance of Veteran’s Day to the original date of 11 November. Restoring the date to its original date preserves historical significance and focuses the attention on the true meaning of Veteran’s Day— a day reserved to celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and selfless sacrifice. 

Finally on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on November 11.

Although Veteran’s Day is primarily a tribute to our living veterans as commemorative celebrations include festive community events, military tributes and patriotic ceremonies, we must never forget the veterans from past wars who have sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom. 

Lieutenant Colonel McRao, during a lull in the second Battle of Ypres in 1915, scribbled a poem on his dispatch book after witnessing the death his friend, a young Lieutenant. Killed in Flanders, Belgium, Lt. Colonel McRao’s friend was buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross.  Sitting in the back of the field ambulance and looking at his friend’s grave, McRao wrote about the about poppies that began to bloom around his friend’s grave site. The red poppy of Flanders Field that McRao wrote about, today serves as a symbol of remembrance for those who died in battle.

The poem gained attention and popularity as it made its way into the pages of Punch magazine catching the attention of an American teacher, Moina Belle Michael. After reading McRao’s poem, she responded (excerpt), “we cherish too, the Poppy red that grows on fields where valor led, it seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies.” Affectionately known as “the Poppy Lady,” she campaigned and gained support to use the red Flanders poppy as an emblem of remembrance. Show your support of this tradition by wearing the red Flanders poppy in memory of the sacrifices of war.

In honoring all who have served, take time to thank our local Veterans on the island for their service.  Happy Veteran’s Day!