November 11th is Veterans Day.
No apostrophe. Just Veterans, plural, intended to encompass all veterans, past and present, living and dead.
The twisting history of this holiday can be traced directly back to World War I. But unlike many similar observances of what is often called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other countries, the marking of Veterans Day goes beyond the colossal struggles of World War I and defines itself as a uniquely American event.
Certainly, it began its existence as Armistice Day: the commemoration of the famous “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918 when the Allies of Europe and the Central Powers headed by the German Empire both agreed to set aside arms and end the conflict.
And originally in 1938, when Congress first made Armistice Day an official federal holiday, it was created to honor the Veterans of that War, both those who lost their lives and those who survived yet always left at least a little something behind on the battlefields of Europe.
The War to End all Wars
But less than 3 years after the first Armistice Day honoring the American veterans of “The War to End all Wars,” an entirely new World War had already broken out across Europe.
And this new War would both involve the United States on a much greater scale, and take a much wider scope.
While the U.S. contributed 4.7 million total personnel (at home and overseas) to World War I, it was at the tail end of a massive conflict that would involve more than 65 million total military personnel across Europe.
Whereas what became World War II would include over 17 million U.S. troops, and span across two entirely distinct theatres of war: Europe and the Pacific.
By 1954, with World War II and Korean War both contributing substantial populations of veterans, Congress chose to extend Armistice Day to include the veterans of all U.S. military conflicts, and Veterans Day was born.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act
During the 1970’s, Veterans Day, along with lots of other federal holidays, took a strange detour.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, heavily campaigned for by travel agency lobby groups, sought to maximize the number of 3-day weekends enjoyed by potential travelers each year by reassigning federal holidays to specific Mondays.
This Act not only received wide support, but it was successfully passed in 1968 and took effect in 1971. This Act created a completely new federal Monday holiday (Columbus Day) and officially moved Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day all to various Mondays on the calendar.
Veterans Day, which had always been celebrated on Armistice Day (November 11th) was relegated to the fourth Monday of October.
While each of the other new Monday holidays continue to be celebrated on Monday up until the present day, the observation of Veterans Day as separate from Armistice Day was met with resistance from the start.
Many states chose to continue observing the holiday on November 11th, and Congress finally passed legislation to move the holiday back to its historic roots in 1978.
Veterans Day Today
Veterans Day is Armistice Day. But it’s also much more than that.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 19 million living veterans, with more than 15 million of those veterans of a war.
Beyond thanking veterans for their service and enjoying a day off work, there’s a world of other meaningful opportunities to recognize this particular day. From donating to charities, donating your time to help veterans in crisis, to observing the National Two Minutes of Silence.