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Origins of Veterans Day

The Great War, or World War I, was ignited on June 28, 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and his wife), the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a Serbian nationalist. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government and requested German military support. Serbia sought Russia’s help. The war was on.

President Woodrow Wilson pledged U.S. neutrality. However, economic/financial interests; Germany’s indiscriminate sinking of passenger and merchant ships, many of which carried Americans; and a proposed secret alliance between Germany and Mexico (the “Zimmerman Telegram”) forced his hand. The United States entered the battle in April 1917.

Fast-forward to November 11, 1918. An armistice was signed to end the fighting — the Treaty of Versailles made it official seven months later. The Allied forces (Russia, France, Great Britain, United States, etc.) had emerged victorious over the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, etc.). The war exacted a heavy toll: over 8 million soldiers killed, nearly 38 million wounded (military and civilian).

President Wilson proclaimed November 11 “Armistice Day” in 1919, a day to reflect on the heroism of Americans who served in the conflict and to express gratitude for the victory. Armistice Day became a legal holiday in 1938.

But the “war to end all wars” moniker was wishful thinking. In 1954, following World War II and the Korean War, Congress changed Armistice Day to “Veterans Day” to honor all veterans (wartime and peacetime) for their service, not just World War I vets.

The date of Veterans Day was messed with by Congress for a seven-year stretch in the 1970s with the whole long-weekend thing. However, after veterans and many state legislatures voiced their displeasure, November 11 again became a fixture in 1978.

Freedom is never free, to all U.S. veterans, thank you for your service!