Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, is a federal holiday to honor the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces. This includes everyone who has served in the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard, Air Force, and the Coast Guard. The holiday often gets confused with Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday of May.
While both pay respect to our soldiers, they each serve a different purpose. Memorial Day honors all US military personnel who have died or sustained a wound in a war. Veterans Day, on the other hand, pays tribute to all servicemen and servicewomen – both living and dead. Its primary purpose, however, is to thank living veterans for their service and sacrifices.
US President Woodrow Wilson started the 99-year-old tradition on November 11, 1919 to recognize the sacrifices made by World War I soldiers. The date of the holiday, then called Armistice Day, was selected because the Allied Nations and Germany agreed on a ceasefire at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918. The armistice eventually led to the end of the four-year, three-month-long “Great War.” In 1954, US officials changed the name to Veterans Day to include the men and women who had served in World War II (September 1, 1939 — September 2, 1945) and the Korean War (June 25, 1950 — July 27, 1953).
On June 28, 1968, the US Congress passed a bill to move the dates of three holidays – Washington’s birthday (Feb 22), Memorial Day (May 30), and Veterans Day (November 11) – to a predetermined Monday. Americans were happy to get a guaranteed three-day weekend for the first two holidays. However, they were not as thrilled about celebrating Veterans Day on a floating Monday due to the historical significance of November 11. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a bill to revert the holiday to the original date.
Several other countries honor their soldiers on November 11 as well. In the United Kingdom, the holiday pays tribute to all soldiers, living or dead, while Canada uses the day to honor all living veterans. The holiday however goes by different names. France and New Zealand still refer to it as Armistice Day, while the UK, Australia, and Canada call it Remembrance Day. Malta and South Africa celebrate it as Poppy Day.
Most Americans mark the occasion by participating in parades. While that is a great start, there are many other things you can do to show your appreciation for the brave men and women who risked their lives to keep us safe. Invite the veterans in your family, or neighborhood, for a meal and learn about their experience. If that is not possible, seek out the closest veteran center and deliver some food and supplies or volunteer to spend time with soldiers unable to leave their homes. Most importantly, don’t forget to thank any veteran you meet on November 11, or in the future, for his/her service to the country.
Thank You, Veterans!