Tomorrow, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) will celebrate Veterans Day, a federal holiday which dates to the ending of World War I. The armistice was proclaimed on November 11, 1918, and took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning — the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. It was not until June 28, 1919 that the war officially ended when Germany and the Allies signed the Treaty of Versailles. Interestingly, the United States was a signatory, but the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaty. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed a National Armistice Day on November 11, 1919 to commemorate those who died during the war. By Act of May 13 1938, 9 (52 Stat. 351, 5 U.S.C. §87a) Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday dedicated to world peace to honor veterans of the Great War.
In 1954, Congress passed legislation (Public Law 83-380, 68 Stat. 16) to change the name of the holiday to Veterans Day to honor all veterans as there were then more veterans of WWII than there were of WWI. Later that year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation”.
On June 28, 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363, 82 Stat. 250) was enacted to ensure that the four big federal holidays – Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day – would always be celebrated on Mondays, thus preserving the three-day weekend and allowing for travel and recreational activities. Under the new bill, Veterans Day was moved to the last Monday of October and fell on October 25. Because of the significance of the date November 11, citizens and veterans groups around the country wanted to continue to recognize that day. On September 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-97 to return the observance back to its original day. Veterans Day is on November 11 every year, regardless of what day of the week it falls on. The DVA website states that Veterans Day is a “celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
Recent years have seen efforts to commemorate veterans with more than a single day’s observance. On August 4, 2001, the U.S. Senate by Resolution 143 designated the week of November 11 through November 17, 2001, as “National Veterans Awareness Week” calling for educational efforts directed at elementary and secondary school students concerning the contributions and sacrifices of veterans. The practice has continued most recently with the 2008 Senate Resolution 692. This week, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced that DVA and the Library of Congress will offer a Veterans History Countdown web site with oral histories of veterans from every state and US territory. The site provides background about the program, a guide for volunteers to follow in recording and submitting veterans’ oral histories, and access to the project’s extensive digital archive with links that allow access stories in a number of methods: