View Full Version : The History of Veterans Day

11-11-02, 07:03 AM
November 11, or what has come to be known as Veterans Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor Armistice Day -- the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In legislature that was passed in 1938, November 11 was "dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day.'" As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans.

In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

In 1968, the Uniforms Holiday Bill insured three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the last Monday of October. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971.

Finally on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on November 11.

Other countries honor their veterans each year on November 11, although the name and types of commemorations differ somewhat from the U.S. holiday. Canada and Australia observe "Remembrance Day" on November 11, and Great Britain observes "Remembrance Day" on the Sunday nearest to November 11. There are similarities and differences between these countries' Remembrance Days and America's Veterans Day. Canada's observance is similar to the U.S. celebration, but unlike in the U.S., many Canadians wear red poppy flowers on November 11 in honor of their war dead. In Australia, Remembrance Day is similar to America's Memorial Day, a day to honor that nation's war dead. In Great Britain, the day is commemorated by church services and parades of ex-service members in Whitehall, a wide ceremonial avenue leading from London's Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. A two-minute silence is observed at 11 a.m., to honor those who lost their lives in wars.

Celebrating the Holiday

If the November 11 holiday falls on a non-workday -- Saturday or Sunday -- the holiday is observed by the federal government on Monday (if the holiday falls on Sunday) or Friday (if the holiday falls on Saturday). Federal government closings are established by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; a complete schedule can be found here. State and local government closings are determined locally, and non-government businesses can close or remain open as they see fit, regardless of Federal, state or local government operation determinations.

United States Senate Resolution 143, which was passed on August 4, 2001, designated the week of November 11 through November 17, 2001, as "National Veterans Awareness Week." The resolution calls for educational efforts directed at elementary and secondary school students concerning the contributions and sacrifices of veterans.

World War 1

The Great War in Europe raged for nearly three years before the United States chose to become involved. Repeated attacks on American merchant ships by German submarines forced President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 to abandon his policies of neutrality and to declare war on Germany.
The war originally began as a local European conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist. It soon spread to become a war between the Central Powers (primarily Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied Powers (primarily the United Kingdom, France and Russia.)
Battles were fought on several fronts throughout Europe, resulting mainly in stalemates and the loss of countless lives. With America's involvement, the Allies gained new manpower and industrial resources, which helped to raise flagging morale, the result of Russia’s resignation from the conflict.
By the end of the war, the United States proved it could mobilize a large army and act as a major player in international affairs. Unfortunately, President Wilson's plan (the "Fourteen Points") for the armistice was never realized, and its absence would contribute to the conditions necessary for another great European conflict twenty years later.

World War 2

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States of America was forced to emerge from years of isolationism and enter the worst conflict in world history.

The seeds of the Second World War were sown when totalitarian regimes rose in Germany, Italy, and Japan (the countries responsible for forming the Axis Powers). Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader of Germany, in seeking to expand his country's territory, invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium and France in 1939-40. Despite the efforts of Great Britain and other Allied countries, Germany ran virtually unchecked through Europe in the first few years of the war, but was stopped short of an invasion of England as the British held their own in the air-based Battle of Britain. On the Eastern front, early victories against the Soviet Union were counterbalanced by monumental losses at the Battles of Leningrad and Stalingrad.

Early U.S. involvement in the war was on an indirect level, as America delivered valuable supplies to Allied comrades. However, that involvement became official after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a day that in the immortal words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt would "live in infamy." With U.S. aid, the Allies began to recapture the territory which had been lost to the Nazis in the early days of the war. Victories in North Africa and Sicily in 1943 exerted pressure on the Axis powers, and Italy ceased to be an enemy after Mussolini was ousted in the summer of 1943.

American, British, and Canadian troops invaded German-occupied France on June 6, 1944 -- an event which would forever be known as D-Day. The invasion and subsequent Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 eventually turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. Germany's defeat became a foregone conclusion when Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945; final surrender would come eight days later. It was then that the world had to come to terms with the slaughter of millions of people -- mostly Jewish -- under the Nazi regime.

In the Pacific Theater, the U.S. and Japan waged a back-and-forth struggle, with Japan scoring early victories in the Philippines and the South Pacific. The U.S. halted the Japanese advance at the Battle of Midway on June 5, 1942, one of the first battles in naval history where neither of the main fleets came within sight of each other. Fierce fighting in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima ensued, with the Allies coming out on top only after heavy losses. The Battle of the Philippines in 1944 was the beginning of the end for Japan, as the Japanese Navy was all but wiped out by Allied forces.

Fire bombs were dropped on Tokyo and other Japanese cities in early 1945, but despite the damage, Japan was still reluctant to concede defeat. U.S. President Harry Truman subsequently authorized the dropping of atom bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which occurred on August 6 and 9, 1945. Japan surrendered unconditionally on September 2, 1945.

The statistical results of World War II were stunning: all told, approximately 61 million people lost their lives, with the Soviet Union (over 25 million) and China (11 million) suffering the most fatalities, most of them civilians. As a result of the war, the United States emerged as the world's leading military and economic power, and geopolitical boundaries changed radically, with the Soviet Union controlling most of Eastern Europe. The strained relations between these two nations would set the stage for the Cold War, which would define global politics for decades to come.


11-11-02, 07:05 AM
Korean War

The Korean War began as a civil conflict between communist North Korea and the Republic of Korea to the south. After failed attempts to create insurgencies in South Korea, North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel, the border between the two nations, in the early hours of June 25, 1950 and invaded South Korea.

Shortly after this event, U.S. President Harry Truman, with the support of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, ordered General of the Army Douglas McArthur to use whatever force was necessary to aid the South Koreans. This resolution marked the first time in the UN's short history that the use of force in answer to another's country's aggression was authorized.

The ensuing struggle saw many memorable moments, including McArthur's Inchon landings, the heroic stand of the 1st marine Division against enemy forces in the Choisin Reservoir, Truman's removal of McArthur from command of the U.S. Army, and the People's Republic of China's first armed confrontation with U.S. forces.

Ultimately, the U.S. would send over five million soldiers to the Korean theatre before the conflict ended three years later, but the war also involved servicemembers from a large number of other nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, India, France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg, Colombia, Greece, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Turkey. The UN and South Korean forces suffered a final casualty toll of 200,000 people, including 37,000 U.S. servicemen, before the independence of South Korea was restored.

Although an armistice was signed in 1953 between the U.S., China and North Korea, South Korea refused to sign it, leaving the two Koreas separate to this day. Currently the U.S. still maintains a military force in South Korea.