Veterans’ Day is a federal holiday observed every November 11 in the United States, and it coincides with similar occasions in other nations, like Remembrance Sunday in Britain.
Its purpose is to give thanks and recognition to everyone who served in the US Armed Forces, especially to those who are still alive.
The choice of date is no coincidence – it falls on the anniversary of the day in 1918 when hostilities between Germany and the Allied Forces ceased, heralding the end of the First World War.
Veterans’ Day was celebrated for the first time a year later, in 1919, at the proclamation of then President Wilson, who urged “solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the service of their country.” Business activities paused at 11am, and the first parades, public meetings and other events took place.
The armistice became effective on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and, since 1919, short periods of silence have been observed at 11am.
In 1926, the US Congress officially declared the armistice’s anniversary should be marked by thanksgiving and prayer.
At the same time, Congress asked the president to urge officials to show the US flag on all public buildings on the day, and encouraging citizens to mark the day in churches, schools and elsewhere “with suitable ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
November 11 was made a legal holiday in 1938, called Armistice Day and originally observed in honor of those who had served in the First World War.
Then the Second World War broke out, involving more servicemen than any other conflict in American history.
In 1945, Raymond Weeks, later called the “Father of Veterans Day”, of Birmingham, Alabama, headed a delegation arguing for a National Veterans’ Day. He organised celebrations in Alabama every year from 1947 until he died in 1985, and received the Presidential Citizenship Medal three years before his death in recognition of his efforts.
In 1954, officially Congress agreed to call the occasion Veterans’ Day, after nine years of campaigning by Weeks. November 11 became a day to remember all veterans of the US armed forces, whenever and wherever they had seen active service. In the same year, the National Veterans Award was also created.
An attempt to hold the day on the fourth Monday in October, in 1971, was widely ignored in many states, and in 1975 President Ford moved the day back to November 11. It has been officially celebrated on that date since 1978.
Well over 90 years since the first Veterans’ Day, November 11 is recognized with church services and parades across the country, and the US flag often flies at half-mast. Some schools shut for the day, while those which remain open may hold special activities marking the occasion.
Federal offices close on November 11, or the closest weekday if the date falls on a weekend. Organizations which are non-governmental can choose to close or stay open, and public transport may be running on a holiday rather than a regular schedule.
In some communities, observances take place on the nearest weekend, rather than the day itself, so more people can take part.
The day should not be confused with Memorial Day, which remembers those who died in military service.