The men and women past and present who have worn the uniform of our armed services honorably deserve recognition for it. Consider that unlike a civilian job, a person who joins the military can’t quit if the going gets rough. Our servicemen and -women may be called upon to give their lives doing their job. Regardless of their military occupational specialties, they are all part of a human organization whose mission it is to protect the American people.
The significance of the date goes back 97 years. When I was young, I recall Veterans Day being widely referred to as Armistice Day. In fact, the name of the holiday was actually changed in 1954 when Dwight Eisenhower was president. Now that I am old too, I understand how after a certain age you just lose interest in renaming things and stick with what you are familiar with.
The one and only armistice that every American born before 1960 knew was declared on November 11, 1918, ending what we now call World War I. Back then, they just called it the Great War.
In four years and four months of hostilities, a staggering and unprecedented nine million combatants and six and a half million civilians died, virtually eliminating a generation of European men. America came to the fight late but with vigor and tipped the scales against Germany and her allies. In 19 months of war, approximately 4.7 million Americans put on a uniform and around 120,000 were killed. The census for the period lists the total American population as slightly over 103 million.
The Great War produced more American veterans faster than any other period with the exception of World War II. On the first anniversary of the armistice, President Woodrow Wilson called for November 11th to become a day of national remembrance for “the heroism of those who died in the country’s service” during the Great War. By 1926, after 27 of the 48 states had made November 11th a legal holiday, Congress called for the president to commemorate it nationally every year with a proclamation. In 1938 it was made a federal holiday and officially named Armistice Day.
Though Armistice Day was originally about honoring World War I veterans, it evolved into a celebration of all veterans, including those from the Civil War, American-Indian Wars, Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. A major shift took place after 1945 when about 16 million more veterans emerged from World War II and outnumbered the Great War vets three to one. The Korean War added another 5.7 million in 1954. In that year Armistice Day was officially changed to Veterans Day to formally acknowledge its de facto transition over the span of quarter century.