Why Is Veterans Day on November 11th? What to Know About the History of This Federal Holiday

By USO Staff

Every November 11th, Americans celebrate Veterans Day to honor the more than 19.5 million heroes who have served in the U.S. military. On this day, millions across the country attend local memorial events, watch the televised Veterans Day National Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia, or recognize friends or family who served.

Unlike many other holidays that follow a specific cadence each year (like Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, or Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November), Veterans Day is a federal holiday that always falls on November 11. The reason why has both historic and symbolic roots dating back to World War I.

A closer look at 20th century events can help explain how and why this federal holiday came to be:

How Veterans Day Emerged from World War I

On November 11, 1918, an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations effectively ended the Great War after millions of casualties. It signaled the first time in more than four years that guns and cannons on the Western Front fell quiet. The war officially ended less than a year later when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919.

Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

Crowds in New York City eagerly await a parade of the famous 369th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, returning as heroes just a few months after the armistice of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

On the first anniversary of the armistice, President Woodrow Wilson declared that November 11 would be celebrated as Armistice Day with parades, public meetings and a two-minute pause of business at 11:00 a.m.

President Gerald R. Ford and Major General Frederic Davison salute the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a Veterans Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 1974. | Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

That same day, the United Kingdom’s Unknown Warrior was transported from France to London and buried in Westminster Abbey to commemorate those who lost their lives during World War I. France’s Unknown Soldier was simultaneously buried in Paris at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.

A year later, the United States followed suit by burying four unidentified U.S. military personnel in Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to represent those who gave their lives during the war.

In 1926, the United States Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to recognize and honor the armistice on November 11. An act approved by Congress in 1938 made Armistice Day a legal national holiday in recognition of World War I veterans.

How Veterans Day Became a Celebration of All Service Members

In 1954, “Armistice Day” was renamed “Veterans Day” when service members who had fought in World War II and in the Korean War urged Congress to recognize the American veterans of all wars. President Dwight Eisenhower issued the “Veterans Day Proclamation” several months later to create a Veterans Day National Committee, which ensures even to this day that veterans are properly recognized each year.

Another 12 years passed before Veterans Day was once again changed. The Uniform Holiday Bill moved all four national federal holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day) to Mondays so federal employees could enjoy three-day weekends.

Photo credit DVIDS/Airman 1st Class Zachary Martyn

A World War II veteran holds a sign and waves to the crowd during the Veteran’s Day Parade in New York City in 2016. Veterans and active-duty service members participated in the parade, honoring the service of American veterans.

Even so, many states continued to celebrate Veterans Day on November 11, given the significance of that date. It wasn’t until 1975 that President Gerald Ford returned Veterans Day to November 11 after receiving pressure from state legislatures, veterans service organizations and Americans.

How to Celebrate Veterans Past and Present

The history of Veterans Day is closely tied to our nation’s history and gives Americans an opportunity to honor those who have made sacrifices to protect us. This Veterans Day, give more than thanks to veterans by:

  • Volunteering at a local veteran’s center

  • Asking friends or family who served about their time in the military, then preserving those memories in a journal or digital file for future generations

  • Laying flowers in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on November 9-10 as part of the Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony

  • Watching a joint full honors procession and joint service flyover at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on November 11 via livestream

  • Donating to a military nonprofit like the USO to support the next generation of veterans

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