Honoring Those Who Served: The Meaning and History of Veterans Day

War has been a part of human history and while it’s tragic, the men and women who choose to fight for their freedoms and their country are true heroes. Known to the world as veterans, it is fitting that celebrate their courage and strength each year on a national U.S. holiday known as Veterans Day.

In other parts of the world, this day coincides with other similarly focused holidays that go by the names of Remembrance Day, and Armistice Day. The holiday is meant to honor and thank those who currently serve in the active military, or have served in the past. For those who have been killed in the line of duty, a separate holiday named Memorial Day is held at another time each year.

As we solemnly thank those who are serving and those who have served, let’s examine the meaning and history of this holiday, in addition to some powerful quotes that help us remember just how much these people have given to protect the ones they love and the freedoms we enjoy.

The Annual Date and Purpose of Veteran’s Day

Each year on November 11th, a holiday is held to honor those that have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, also known as veterans. This federal holiday coincides with two others elsewhere in the world: Armistice Day, and Remembrance Day.

As a cumulative whole, these days are meant to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. The war itself ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. This moment marked the beginning of the Armistice with Germany, and the end of all hostilities surrounding the ongoing war.

Ten Inspiring Quotes about Veterans

While one day is set aside for veterans, war is an ongoing part of our modern society. As we explore the history of this iconic day, let us reflect on some humbling and inspiring quotes:

  1. “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!”  - Sun Tzu
  1. “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?” - Eve Merriam
  1. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” - John F. Kennedy
  1. “The willingness of America’s veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude.” - Jeff Miller
  1. “On this day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free.” - Dan Lipinski
  1. “I think there is one higher office than president and I would call that patriot.” - Gary Hart
  1.  “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”  - Elmer Davis
  1. “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” - Jose Narosky
  1.  “Without heroes, we are all plain people, and don’t know how far we can go.” - Bernard Malamud
  1. “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” - Billy Graham.

A History of Honoring Veterans in the United States  

In addition to the American holiday honoring veterans, there are two other major holidays that are meant to honor those who have fought for their country. Let us begin with the United States holiday and its history.

It began as something called Armistice Day when U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the day a holiday on November 11, 1919. He commemorated the day with the following statement:

"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."

The U.S. Congress passed a resolution on June 4, 1926 in which they requested that President Calvin Coolidge issue another proclamation to observe the November 11th date with ceremonies. The approval of a Congressional act in 1938 solidified the date as a legal holiday with the added comment: “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as armistice day.”

The name stayed the same until 1945 when a World War II veteran by the name of Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama wanted to expand the day to incorporate all veterans, not just the ones from WWI. He brought this concept to the attention of General Dwight Eisenhower who was in support of a national day for veterans as a whole.

Weeks himself led the celebration in Alabama each year from 1947 until his death in 1985. He was awarded the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan for his campaigning the national holiday. The briefing for the event was prepared by Elizabeth Dole who referred to Raymond Weeks as the “Father of Veterans Day.”

U.S Representative Ed Rees from Emporia, Kansas was the one who presented a bill to establish this new holiday through Congress. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954. The bill was amended on June 1, 1954 at which point the “Armistice” was replaced with “Veterans” which officially changed it into the name we know today.

Also in 1954 was the creation of the National Veterans Award. Congressman Rees was the first recipient of the award for putting forward the legislation that eventually led to the creation of the federal holiday. Over the years the date has shifted slightly as well, in an attempt to accommodate a weekday each year and not a weekend.

In 1971 it was moved to the fourth Monday of October to better cooperate with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. In 1978 it was moved back to November 11th and remains there to this day. If that date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, most organization observe the holiday on the previous Friday or the next Monday.

In other parts of the world, the meaning is similar, but the way it is observed varies slightly. In the United States some businesses will remain closed, mail is not delivered, and other restaurants and stores will offer special deals and discounts to veterans who shop with them on November 11th.

How Veterans are Honored Around the World

In other areas of the world, November 11th is known by different names, but the holiday remains similar in both purpose and meaning. There are two major variations:

  1. Remembrance Day

This holiday also goes by the name “Poppy Day” and it is observed by the Commonwealth of Nations member states. It began at the end of the First World War as a day to honor those who died in the line of duty. Originally the day was chosen by King George V on November 7, 1919.

While the official ending of the First World War was the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the end of hostilities came with the signing of the armistice with Germany which like the American holiday, is how this one came to be.

The other name for the holiday, Poppy Day, refers to the red remembrance poppy which has become associated with the day as a result of a poem entitled In Flanders Fields. In World War I, these types of poppies bloomed in some of the worst battlefields of Flanders. The red color is meant to represent the blood spilled during the fighting.

  1. Armistice Day

While this was the name used by many nations after World War I, the name was changed for the most part just before or shortly after World War II. Countries like the United Kingdom adopted the name “Remembrance Day” and in the case of America it was Veteran’s Day.

The holiday’s name remains unchanged for France and Belgium. In addition it has become a statutory holiday in Serbia and in New Zealand it is recognized by not a national holiday. One of the most common ways to observe this holiday is to hold a two minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. local time.

The first minute is a sign of respect to the 20 million people who died in the war, and the second minute is a dedication to those who living who were left behind. This is referring to wives, daughters, children, and others who lost loved ones during the fighting.

No matter how it is celebrated, this is an important holiday all around the world. We should never forget those who fought to protect those they love and the country they serve.