World War I, known as the Great War, ended with an armistice declared on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in November 1918. An armistice is a temporary stop to war hostiles. At the time, no one believed there could be a war greater than World War I. The final peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, was signed in 1919. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, proclaimed “Armistice Day,” on November 11, 1919.
President Wilson’s intent was to reflect on the sacrifice and heroism of those who died in service to the country during the Great War, and to show gratitude for having won the war. Armistice Day was marked with a suspension of business for two minutes starting at 11 a.m. Parades and public meetings were also encouraged. Throughout the years, two minutes of silence is observed by the President during Veterans Day activities.
In 1920, France and Great Britain honored their war dead on the second anniversary of the armistice by dedicating their countries’ Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 1921, Congress followed suit and approved the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The dedication ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11. Congress also declared November 11, 1921 a legal, federal holiday to honor those who participated in the war.
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, most states celebrated November 11, Armistice Day, as a legal state holiday. Back then, the states had the final say as to what days they were going to celebrate as holidays, and most followed the federal holiday schedule. During this time, on the national level, the president issued an annual proclamation. It wasn’t until 1938 that Congress officially made November 11 a federal legal holiday.
With veterans from World War II and the Korean War, President Eisenhower signed legislation in 1954 that changed November 11 from “Armistice Day,” to “Veterans Day,” honoring all those who had served.
During the 1970’s, the Veterans Day holiday was held on the fourth Monday of October to accommodate a federal three-day holiday law, but a lot of states felt that was too close to Columbus Day, and so they held their observances on the traditional date of November 11. In 1978, legislation was passed that officially made November 11 the day of observance for Veterans Day.
The importance of Veterans Day is to honor all veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve their country. As an interesting note, the holiday is commonly misspelled as Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day. It is observed on the federal, state, and local levels of government, however, most businesses remain open.