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The Origins of Veterans Day
2006 Veterans Day Poster
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, D.C., 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 a.m.,
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 million Americans took
part. Four hundred seven thousand of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle.
Armistice Day Changed To Honor All Veterans
The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in
1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized "National Veterans Day,"
which included a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans. The event was held
on November 11, then designated Armistice Day. Later, U.S. Representative Edward
Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In
1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming
November 11 as Veterans Day. Raymond Weeks received the Presidential Citizens
Medal from President Reagan in November 1982. Weeks' local parade and ceremonies
are now an annual event