Dave Rocker: Why Americans Observe Veterans Day
How did Veterans Day come to be?
Why do Americans observe Veterans Day on November 11th?
Why do Americans confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
As the title of the holiday suggests, Veterans Day formally acknowledges the men and women who’ve served in our Armed Forces. Beyond that association, however, most Americans are not especially knowledgeable when it comes to the specific origins and history of this holiday.
The confusion surrounding Veterans Day stems from the way the meaning of Veterans Day has evolved since the holiday was first observed in 1919. At that time, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th as the day and date on which Americans would commemorate the end of World War I.
It wasn’t until 1938 that Congress approved a bill to formalize November 11 as a federal holiday. Back then, the day was called “Armistice Day.” Although the legislation specified Armistice Day was intended to honor the cause of world peace, Americans–perhaps due to the World War I-centric origins of Armistice Day–continued to associate the holiday with World War I veterans.
In light of World War II and the Korean War, as well as other violent conflicts which ensued in the decades that followed, commemorating “world peace” to Americans felt more and more out of place. In 1954, Congress changed the “Armistice” title from the holiday’s original legislation and replaced the word with “Veterans”; President Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day proclamation that same year. Memorial Day would honor Americans who died in war, President Eisenhower stated. Veterans Day would honor all who served and fought in American wars.
Although most U.S. federal holidays are celebrated on Monday (for purposes of creating a long weekend for federal employees), Veterans Day is still observed on November 11th in order to preserve the historical significance of the date.