Americans across the nation are taking time to honor veterans on Saturday, November 11, but how did this tradition begin?
Ceremonies commemorating the soldiers of a nation have been commonplace throughout history. Similarly, honoring soldiers was always part of American history, but the first “National Veterans Day” was observed on November 11, 1947.
The date was originally designated Armistice Day in recognition of the day the Allied powers and Germany signed an armistice in 1918, officially ending World War I.
Armistice Day was observed to honor the veterans who served in World War I, but in 1945, Raymond Weeks had the idea to expand the day to celebrate all American veterans after he returned from service in World War II.
Weeks spearheaded the first Veterans Day celebration two years later in Birmingham, Alabama. The celebration included a parade and other festivities, similar to many Veterans Day celebrations today.
As the years went on, Veterans Day celebrations caught on across the rest of THE U.S. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill officially replacing Armistice Day with Veterans Day, proclaiming it a national holiday.
“I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day,” he said in the proclamation. “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
For a decade, Veterans Day was not actually observed on November 11. A 1968 law moved the holiday to the fourth Monday in October in order to ensure a three-day weekend for federal employees.
However, many Americans were unhappy with this alteration, considering the historical significance of November 11. In 1978, Congress reverted Veterans Day back to being celebrated on its former date.
Four years later, President Ronald Reagan invited Raymond Weeks to the White House and honored him with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Weeks was recognized as the “Father of Veterans Day.”
Reagan described Weeks as a man who “devoted his life to serving others, his community, the American veteran, and his nation.”
“So let us go forth from here, having learned the lessons of history, confident in the strength of our system, and anxious to pursue every avenue toward peace,” the president said. “And on this Veterans Day, we will remember and be firm in our commitment to peace, and those who died in defense of our freedom will not have died in vain.”
Weeks passed away in 1985 at the age of 76, but his work lives on, as Veterans Day has become a staple of American tradition.