In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh
month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter
war, an armistice was signed. The "war to end all wars" was over.
November 11, 1919 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United
States, to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during
World War I in order to ensure a lasting peace. On Armistice Day,
soldiers who survived the war marched in a parade through their home
towns. Politicians and veteran officers gave speeches and held
ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won.
Congress voted Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938, 20 years
after the war ended. But Americans realized that the previous war
would not be the last one. World War II began the following year and
nations great and small again participated in a bloody struggle. After
the Second World War, Armistice Day continued to be observed on
In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans'
Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress
passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming the federal
holiday to Veterans' Day. 1971 President Nixon declared it a federal
holiday on the second Monday in November.
Americans still give thanks for peace on Veterans' Day. There are
ceremonies and speeches and at 11:00 in the morning, most Americans
observe a moment of silence, remembering those who fought for peace.
After the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, the
emphasis on holiday activities has shifted. There are fewer military
parades and ceremonies. Veterans gather at the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial in Washington, D.C. to place gifts and stand quiet vigil at
the names of their friends and relatives who fell in the Vietnam War.
Families who have lost sons and daughters in wars turn their thoughts
more toward peace and the avoidance of future wars.
Veterans of military service have organized support groups such as
the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On Veterans' Day and
Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable activities
by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans. This bright red
wildflower became a symbol of World War I after a bloody battle in a
field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.