Throughout U.S. history, American men and women have volunteered their time, energy, and, in many cases, even their lives to fight in battles, serve in the reserves, and work on military bases stateside and overseas. These honorable men and women do this because of their belief in the American ideal and the freedom afforded to our citizens. Every year on November 11, we take a day to recognize the sacrifices that all of our veterans have made for our country. But how did this holiday come about? And how can we ensure that veterans have the healthcare and opportunities they deserve for their service?
The Origins of Veterans Day
What many Americans don’t know, is that Veterans Day has been around in one form or another for a long time. On November 11, 1918, a ceasefire between the Allied Nations and Germany went into effect. This would lead to the end of the First World War, and the day became known as Armistice Day.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson announced the first Armistice Day celebrations 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…"
Originally Armistice Day was dedicated to honoring only those who served in World War I, but when with World War II and the Korean War required a large mobilization of American troops, the public became interested in finding a new way to pay respects to all of America’s veterans. In 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower made the first Veterans Day proclamation, in accordance with an act of Congress that year to rename the holiday.
From 1971 to 1977, Veteran's Day was actually observed on the fourth Monday in October. The change was part of a law passed by Congress called the Uniform Holidays Bill, which sought to encourage tourism by holding the 4 national holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) over 3-day weekends. However, the November 11th date held historic and patriotic significance to many Americans, and the change was unpopular. President Gerald R. Ford signed a new law returning the observation of Veterans Day which went into effect in 1978.
Celebrating Veterans Day
The largest national Veterans Day celebration occurs in Arlington Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns where a color guard representing all military branches performs a “Present Arms” at the tomb. The ceremony culminates with the president laying a memorial wreath on the tomb while a bugler plays “Taps” in remembrance for those who gave their lives for our country.
Parades honoring those who served in the armed forces can be found all over the country, but it is Birmingham, Alabama that claims to have held the first Veterans Day parade in 1947 when Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran had the idea to expand the annual Armistice Day parade to all of those who served in the military. Later, Weeks was actively involved in petitioning the federal government to create the holiday for all veterans.
Honoring Veterans All Year
Taking a day to reflect on the service that men and women have dedicated to our country is a valuable ritual for many Americans, but many of our veterans are in need of more than just our warm and kind thoughts. Of America's 19.6 million veterans, 3.6 million have a disability related to their military service. This is a terribly high number.
While veterans make up just 8% of America's population, they represent an overwhelming 30% of mesothelioma cancer deaths nationwide. But in order to get VA benefits for mesothelioma, veterans must prove they were exposed to the mineral asbestos during active duty, and that there were no other incidents of potential exposure either preceding or following their military service. This is not always easy because mesothelioma is a cancer that surfaces 20-50 years after the initial exposure.
Charitable organizations such as The American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America provide valuable services to veterans, including helping veterans make disability claims, and accept cash donations and volunteers. Veterans Day is great time to think about giving back to the men and women who keep our country safe and free.
Whether you celebrate Veterans Day by going to a parade, donating to a veterans’ organization, or simply by thanking a veteran for his or her service, Veterans Day is an important way to honor those who make America great. Have a safe and happy Veterans Day!