A brief history and true meaning of Veterans Day

Bill Goodman
American Legion, Wapsi Post 473

     Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on Nov. 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, Nov. 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’” As such, this new legal holiday honored WWI veterans.

     In 1954, after having been through WWII and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress – at the urging of the veterans service organizations – amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

     In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act ensured three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971.

     Finally on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on Nov. 11.

     There are three things that people should know about Veterans Day…they are:

     Veterans Day is a day of reflection, not celebration. Many people treat Veterans Day the same way they treat Memorial Day – as a day of solemnity in remembrance of those who gave their lives for our nation. Others view the holiday similarly to Independence Day, with celebration of our nation’s freedom. However, it is neither. It’s not a memorial, go to the graveyard day…it’s not a beer drinking party day. It’s a day to commemorate why the veterans did what they did and do what they do. When you’re talking to your veterans, make a point of asking them about their time in the service. Questions such as, “What made you decide to serve?” and “What is or was your favorite part of serving in the military?” are a few conversation starters that will let your veterans know that we are interested, listening, and most importantly, grateful.

     Veterans Day is a day of gratitude. While we all have good intentions when we offer a quick “thanks” to service members in passing, many veterans tell of being tired of the obligatory “Thank you for your service.” On the other hand, some veterans don’t feel a need to be thanked at all. Recognizing that most veterans serve to fulfill an inner calling and sense of personal responsibility – and not to seek fame and glory – will go further than, “Thank you for your service,” ever could. Relating to your veteran over your mutual pride for and love of this nation and her people will convey your gratitude for their service in a personal and meaningful way.

     Veterans Day is a day of careful conversation. “Veteran” is not a one-size-fits-all title. Even within the same unit, each service member will have a different experience – some painful, some triumphant and some both. Making assumptions about a service member’s experience can do more harm than good, so make sure to approach your conversations with care. People tend to think of some generic soldier figure who is serving overseas fighting epic battles for their freedom, but soldiers are all unique individuals with an incredible amount of diversity who make many sacrifices on a daily basis. There are many lesser-known jobs within the military that are often overlooked, despite the significant roles they play in our military's success. It’s important to acknowledge the valuable contributions made by these “smaller” roles in addition to the missions making headlines. While we want to convey our gratitude on Veterans Day, remember that many veterans will be reliving difficult moments from their time in service. Just like with any other interaction, be sure to “read the room” before pursuing a conversation.

     This year, let’s make sure we honor our veterans in the best way possible by reflecting on the significance of their service, conveying our gratitude in meaningful and personal ways, and carefully pursuing conversations that will allow them to talk about the memories they wish to recall without forcing them to relive memories they're seeking to avoid.

     Happy Veterans Day!



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