A Brief History of Veterans Day

Today We Reflect on Peace, Those who Stand for Freedom, and the Continuation of that Pursuit.



Compiled By: Brandon Davis


"Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." - Ronald Reagan 

The year was 1918. It was the 11th hour.  The 11th day.  The 11th month.  This is when the armistice ending World War I began, and this is the origin of Veterans Day.

It would become known as the “war to end all wars” due to the great slaughter and devastation it caused. It wasn’t.  The peace treaty that officially ended the conflict (the Treaty of Versailles of 1919) would force punitive terms on Germany, destabilizing Europe, and laying the groundwork for World War II.  This was not to be humanities last war either.  Hardly.  We would fight, kill, and lose millions more, over the next century.

In November 1919, one year after the armistice ending World War I went into effect, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th as the first “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…”

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect.

Armistice Day officially received its name through a congressional resolution passed in June of 1926. By that time, 27 states had made Armistice Day a legal holiday.  Later, in 1938, Armistice Day officially became a national holiday by law, when an act was passed on May 13, 1938, that made November 11 in each year a legal holiday:  “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.”

World War II saw the largest mobilization of U.S. Forces in our nation’s history with more than 16 million people;  some 5.7 million more served in the Korean War (1950 to 1953).  In 1954, after lobbying efforts by veterans’ service organizations, the 83rd U.S. Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday, striking the word “Armistice” in favor of “Veterans.”November 11 became a day to honor veterans of all American wars.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower marked the occasion with a special proclamation, and Veterans Day was formed and celebrated.

And so, what started as a celebration of peace evolved into a celebration of the defender, the fighter, and the guardian.

When I began researching for this post, I had no idea the historical content.  When I realized today’s honorifics were originally based on the ideas of peace, it surprised me.  I wondered how we as a nation lived up to this notion of being a council to other nations.

Personally, I would declare peace first; in my heart I desire it foremost.  Still, I know that war has proven a necessary evil at times throughout history.  Isn’t it?Each war, each terrorist attack, each school shooting, each playground bully takes it’s toll.  I was raised to defend against such adversaries, and on this principle I have come to understand that the antagonists of fear and violence aggravate our notion of peace the most.

The face of our opponent may change over the years, but perpetually there is a presence to wrestle with.  Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to celebrate peace for more than just a few years, the inevitability that it's sustainability will be challenged by someone, somewhere. 

Wars change humanity.  World War I destroyed empires; it introduced chemical weapons, tanks and airborne bombing; it brought millions of women into the work force, quickening their legal right to vote. It gave independence to nations like Poland and the Baltic countries, and created new nations in the Middle East, often with arbitrary borders; it brought about major cultural changes, including a new understanding of the psychology of war, of “shell shock” and post-traumatic stress.  By the end, the number of military and civilian casualties was over 38 million: over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

And still, today, we continue fighting.  We have wars for democracy, wars against drugs, wars on terror.   We have civil wars, corporate wars, and religious wars.  Maybe there are even those waging war against wars.

Many analysts are pointing to the dangers of declining powers faced with rising ones, considering both China and the Middle East, where the Syrian civil war and the advance of Islamic militants toward Baghdad are ripping up borders and creating new ones.

But that’s just one conflict of many.

So what will be the real war to end them all? Is that question hopeful, or horrific?   Or is its suggestion merely Utopian in nature?

Today, on this 11th day of the 11th month, 2015, a mere 97 years after we began the celebration of peace, I call again to all our warriors.  To our fathers, our grandfathers, our mothers, our bosses, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and friends.  All who have served in the name of justice. I call for each of us to not only honor each other for this service and sacrifice, but to recall why that service was rendered to begin with.  To recall what our own parents, and the generations passed had sought to find, to create, and had hoped to sustain.Armistice.  The laying down of our weapons together, on all sides, and yielding to a new future, a better future.

As President Wilson’s words stand updated: For the American people, we take pride in the valor, bravery, and courageousness of those who have fought, for those who have died in the service of our country, and for those who have sacrificed.It is with great thanks, not only to these men and women, but also to the victory of succeeding in freeing us from an oppression, for giving us who remain, new opportunity that we may show the full sympathy of American justice and peace in the council of all nations.

Long ago we declared to remember peace was why we battled, and it would be peace for which we would stand.  So, on this Veterans Day, we give thanks for one another and for the time we have together; we pay tribute to those we have lost, and to say prayers for those serving in foreign lands.  To our Veterans, we salute you on behalf of a grateful nation, and pray we can handle the obligation to stand on all the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and to be better.  I encourage myself and you to seek peace, even if for a moment.  Provide peace, even if not appreciated.  Be at peace, even in the face of conflict.  


“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


Britain, France, Australia and Canada also commemorate the veterans of World Wars I and II on or near November 11th:  Canada has Remembrance Day, while Britain has Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday of November).  In Europe, Britain and the Commonwealth countries it is common to observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. every November 11.In the United States, an official wreath-laying ceremony is held each Veterans Day at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, while parades and other celebrations are held in states around the country.

Veteran by the Numbers and other Interesting Facts:

The Tomb of the Unknowns: In 1921, the United States laid to rest the remains of a World War I American soldier — his name “known but to God” – in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on a hillside overlooking Washington, D.C.  It became known as the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” and was meant to symbolize reverence for the American veteran. Today it is known as the “Tomb of the Unknowns.”

21.2 million
Number of military veterans in the United States in 2012.

1.6 million
Number of female veterans in the United States in 2012.

11.3 percent
Percent of black veterans in 2012.  Additionally, 5.7 percent were Hispanic; 1.3 percent were Asian; 0.8 percent were Native Americans or Alaska Native; 0.2 percent were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and 79.6 percent were non-Hispanic white. (The numbers for blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and non-Hispanic whites cover only those reporting a single race.)

9.6 million
Number of veterans 65 and older in 2012. At the other end of the age spectrum, 1.8 million were younger than 35.


"We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it." ―Dwight D. Eisenhower

"My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth."―George Washington

"The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission."― John F. Kennedy



Brandon Davis is the News Assistant for PoliticKING with Larry King, and a contributor to Ora TV's online media content.  He lives in Burbank, California with his wild dingo, Kamei.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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