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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

 The number of military veterans in the United States in 2008 was 23.2 million. There are 1.8 million female veterans as of 2008. 26 percent of veterans 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree, and 91 percent of veterans 25 and older have a high school diploma or higher. (U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 2009)

A distinction should be made between Memorial Day and Veterans Day observance in the United States. Memorial Day honors service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle. Deceased veterans are also remembered on Veterans Day but the day is set aside to thank and honor living veterans who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime. (

The History of the Observance of Veterans Day

In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed. The "War to End All Wars" (World War I) was over. (Beverly Hernandez, Symbolically speaking at the time, the closeness to the brink of destruction in the "11th Hour" was very meaningful.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was 
taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day in the United States, to remember the sacrifices that men and women had made during World War I in order to ensure a lasting peace. President Wilson used the following words to describe the purpose of the day:

"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…"

On Armistice Day, soldiers who had survived the war marched in parades through their home towns. Politicians and veteran officers gave speeches and held ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won. And, a brief suspension of business began at 11:00 A.M.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926. It read as the following:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples. (The United States Department of Veterans Affairs,
An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day."

After World War II and Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word Armistice and inserting in its place the word Veterans. With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production.
The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. Initially all states follow suit except Mississippi and South Dakota, yet many other states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates. Other states changed their observances back to November 11 as follows: 1972- Louisiana and Wisconsin; 1974- Kentucky, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, South Carolina, West Virginia; 1975- California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

 Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls (but, officially the holiday is now observed on the weekday that falls closest to November 11th every year). The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Veterans Day Ceremony At Arlington

Tomb of the Unknowns

On November 11, 1920, England laid to rest an unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey, a way to commemorate their losses in the war. France had carried a similar act the same year at the Arc de Triomphe.

Following their lead, on November 11, 1921, the United States began to officially honor the unknowns. An unknown American World War I soldier, who had already been laid to rest at a cemetery in Europe, was selected and placed aboard a ship to Washington D.C. The remains would fill the new "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" at Arlington National Cemetery. (Steve Paul Johnson,, November 9 2000) The tomb carries the inscription: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

In 1958, two more unidentified American soldiers were laid to rest next to the unknown soldier of World War I. One of the soldiers was killed in World War II, and the other in the Korean War. In 1984, a fourth unknown serviceman who had died in the Vietnam War was added to the tomb. However, in 1998, the identity of the Vietnam War soldier was discovered through DNA testing, and his remains were returned to his family. The crypt reserved for the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War is now empty. (, "Social Studies")

All of the soldiers in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, and some have additional decorations as well.  

Every Veterans Day a At 11 A.M.on November 11, a combined color guard representing all military services executes "Present Arms" at the tomb. The nation's tribute to its war dead is symbolized by the laying of a presidential wreath and the playing of "Taps."

Official National Observance

In actuality, there are no U.S. national holidays because the states retain the right to designate their own, and the government can only designate holidays for federal employees and for the District of Columbia. In practice, however, states almost always follow the federal lead. Federal law cannot compel state, municipal or other local governments to observe or recognize federal holidays in any way (U.S. Const., Amend. X effectively reserves holiday creation policy to the governments of the several states).

Most states do recognize all federal holidays, however, though some are slower than others to adopt them. Arizona and New Hampshire notably refused to establish Martin Luther King, Jr's. birthday as a legal holiday until long after the federal and 48 other state governments had already done so. California does not recognize Columbus Day, but celebrates the date of admission to statehood, Admission Day.

The Poppy

On Veterans' Day and Memorial Day, veterans' groups raise funds for their charitable activities by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans. This bright red wildflower became a symbol of World War I after a bloody battle in a field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.

Thanks to for this brief history of the battle: "The Ypres River Valley and salient at Flanders was a key area through which German troops headed to Calais. The British, determined to keep the Germans at bay, holed up in the valley, exposing themselves and their adversary on 3 of 4 flanks. The resulting combat losses were staggering.

"The countryside was turned to rubble... homes, shops, entire villages laid to waste... with only the soil, enriched by the lime rubble left. It was in this fractured earth that red poppies were seen to bloom. Their seedlings lying dormant, the turned soil allowed the poppies to spontaneously grow and flourish... on hills, across fields, on the graves on the battlefield dead.Mother Nature was honoring the fallen by dressing their graves in gentle mounds of scarlet."

During the Second Battle of Ypres, a Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on May 2, 1915, by an exploding shell. He was a friend of the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae, who was inspired to write a very famous poem.

In Flanders Field

by John McCrae, May 1915

Poppies (©

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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