On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, the Great War comes to an end. The historical roots of what we now know as Veterans Day in the United States began over 100 years ago in France, when Germany signed an armistice agreement that would bring about the end of World War I. Today in the United States, Veterans Day is a national holiday where we honor all those who have served honorably in the United States Armed Forces. Those include all members of the six branches of the United States Armed Forces: Air Force, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Space Force; along with their respective National Guard and Reserve components.

A History of Veterans Day

On the first anniversary of the end of World War I, then-President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation marking the first Armistice Day and what he felt it stood for. At the same time, the first ever convention of the American Legion, one of the earliest veterans service organizations, was held to commemorate the veterans of WWI. During the period between World War I and World War II, Armistice Day was solely a celebration for deceased WWI veterans, even after it became a legal holiday in 1938.

In 1945, a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks began to campaign for a national day of celebration for veterans of all wars, not just those who had died in WWI. In 1947, Weeks began to lead national celebrations of all veterans on November 11, which he continued to do until his death in 1985. Six years after Week’s first national celebration of all veterans, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill making Armistice Day a federal holiday for all veterans. The bill was amended the next month to change the name of the holiday to Veterans Day. In 1982, shortly before his death, Raymond Weeks was honored as “The Father of Veterans Day” by President Ronald Reagan, who also awarded Weeks the Presidential Citizenship Medal.

Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day

In other countries, the 11th day of November is celebrated slightly different. France still commemorates Armistice Day, although the celebration has morphed into one for all their war dead. In countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations (Great Britain, Canada, Australia, etc.), the 11th of November is called Remembrance Day, where they remember and honor both veterans and those who have passed away in the service. In the United States, we differentiate these celebrations.

Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is a federal holiday designated to honor and mourn all those who have died in the line of duty in the armed forces. Celebrated in various forms since the Civil War, Memorial Day became an official holiday in 1967, having previously been known as Decoration Day since 1938. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved certain federal holidays, including Memorial Day, to specific Mondays during the year.

Today, with the United States having been engaged in over 20 years of continuous warfare during the Global War on Terror (GWOT), both Memorial Day and Veterans Day have an enduring significance to the nation. While veterans represent less than 10% of the national population, and people in active, guard, and reserve military service make up less than 1% of all adults in the United States; the length of the ongoing war means that most Americans know someone who has served.

Why Do We Celebrate Veterans Day?

Veterans Day is set aside as a day to honor the service of all living veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. In the United States, there are living veterans of every war from WWII through the ongoing GWOT. People join the military for many reasons. Some have a tradition of military service in their family, some have a desire to see the world, some want to get out of the town they grew up in, some join for the post-service benefits, and many feel a call to serve their country. Regardless of a person’s motivation for joining up, as a country we celebrate their honorable service on Veterans Day.

In the GWOT era, it’s become commonplace to tell a veteran, “Thank you for your service.” That token of gratitude is appreciated by all who have served. If you want to take it to the next level, here are some other ideas on how to celebrate the veterans in your life.

Buy them a meal: Who doesn’t love free food? Hit up your friend who served and ask if they want to go grab lunch or dinner, and just hang out and have a good time.

Go to a parade: Western film star Roy Rogers said, “We can’t all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by.” Going to a local city, town, or county event dedicated to veterans is a great way to show your appreciation!

Call or text: This may seem trite, but something as simple as a text from a friend is huge. If you have a friend who served but lives far away, knowing that you’re thinking of them can mean more than you might believe.

Fly the flag: Veterans Day is a great day to hang the Stars and Stripes from your porch to show your appreciation. If you know a veteran that served in a specific branch, you could fly the flag of their particular branch of service instead or in addition to the American flag. Make sure to try to follow the Flag Code when you display the American flag!

Don’t personally know any veterans? There are many veterans service organizations that do great work for the community, and a donation or volunteering your time could be a great thing to do. Another great choice is to visit a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. As veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam age, many of them would enjoy a visit from a grateful American on November 11.

Most importantly, use November 11 to celebrate. It is a national holiday, after all. Most of the veterans out there would want you and yours to have a good time, so enjoy your day!

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