Veterans Day has become one of the most revered holidays in the United States.
Because of a food shortage due to rationing in 1919, on the first Veterans Day U.S. President Woodrow Wilson held a special dinner for troops at the White House. According to www.usafederalholidays.com, the entrée was ravioli, recently introduced as an “easy to make” food as the result of technological advances in the food industry.
Today, ravioli isn’t commonly eaten on Veterans Day. Instead, many Americans visit memorials that commemorate those who lost their lives in service for this country, or attend parades or other celebrations. While some people have no direct connection with the wars of the past century and just enjoy the day off the holiday provides, they also don’t know what Veterans Day is all about. Here’s the scoop:
World War I — known at the time as “The Great War” — officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…."
On Armistice Day, those who survived the war paraded through their hometowns.
Politicians and others gave speeches and held ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won. The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m.
In 1953, Congress passed a bill renaming the federal holiday Veterans Day. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars, conflicts, and active-duty service. Due to the declining number of World War II vets, the observance is especially important now.
The Veterans Day National Ceremony takes place each year on November 11 at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. The ceremony begins precisely at 11 a.m. with a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans' organizations and remarks from dignitaries. The ceremony is intended to honor and thank all who served in the United States Armed Forces.
The Veterans Day National Committee also selects a number of regional sites for Veterans Day observances throughout the country. From stirring parades and ceremonies to military exhibits and tributes to distinguished veterans, these events serve as models for other communities to follow in planning their own observances.
Veterans Day is observed on November 11, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. The observance on that day not only preserves the historical significance of the date but also helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
November 11 is also celebrated as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in many parts of the world.
For more information about Veterans Day, visit www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp.