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Veterans Day idea inspired by great sacrifice

Published: 01:31PM November 15th, 2012

Frank Buckles, the last living American veteran of World War I, died last year at the age of 110. It was his sacrifice and that of his fellow service members that inspired Veterans Day.

Originally known as Armistice Day to honor the living veterans of the First World War, Veterans Day has transformed to include service members of all eras. Veterans Day is a national holiday of remembrance and recognition of all those who served regardless of branch or duty status, Reserve or active component.

An armistice, or temporary cease fire, between the Allied Nations and Germany stopped the fighting of World War I Nov. 11, 1918. Known at the time as the Great War, the end of combat became effective on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The official end of the war would not come for another seven months, on June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, to show pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.

In 1920, France and the United Kingdom each held ceremonies honoring their unknown dead from the war. An “unknown soldier” of the Great War was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor: in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe. This holiday is now known as Remembrance Day in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium and commemorates all who served.

In 1921, an unknown American Soldier was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 by Congressional Resolution.

In 1938, Congress declared Armistice Day a legal holiday, to be held Nov. 11. This was to be a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.”

If World War I had indeed been “the war to end all wars,” Nov. 11, might still be called Armistice Day. Hostilities across the Pacific escalated during the 1930s, battles erupted in Europe in 1939, and the world was once again overrun with war. The ideal of a lasting peace was laid to rest.

World War II saw the greatest mobilization of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen in the nation’s history. Approximately 16 million Americans served in the Armed Forces during World War II.

Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Ala., organized a Veterans Day parade for that city on Nov. 11, 1947, to honor all of America’s veterans for their loyal service. World War II and the Korean War dramatically increased the number of American war veterans.

Congressman Edward H. Rees of Kansas later proposed legislation changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all who have served in America’s Armed Forces. June 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation.

In the 1960s, federal legislators attempted to make Veterans Day fall on a Monday, like Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed on June 28, 1968, to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays, but many states disagreed. The U.S. Army Center of Military history reports that “46 states had either continued to commemorate Nov. 11 or had reverted back to the original date based on popular sentiment.”

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed on Oct. 25, 1971. It mattered to the citizens that Veterans Day was a specific remembrance, and not just a generic holiday. President Gerald Ford signed a law Sept. 20, 1975 returning the annual observance to Nov. 11, beginning 1978.

Celebrations of early Armistice Days should not be forgotten as Americans celebrate Veterans Day. This year, as in all years, it was a time to thank those who served, pay respect to those who have come home and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.