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We are often told to support our troops and care and look out for them when they have completed their service, yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who knows the exact history behind Veterans Day.
As one of America’s most important public holidays, the day serves to commemorate the millions of Americans who put their life on the line for the welfare of their fellow countrymen and women. Falling on November the 11th- the day ceasefire was declared during WW1- other countries such as Britain and Canada also commemorate the fallen the same day.
With that said, here are 10 things you might not know about Veterans Day.
1. Veterans Day was first known as Armistice Day
Veterans Day is celebrated in the many other countries that were involved in WW1, and like those nations, the original Veterns Day was known as Armistice Day. However, a year after Armistice Day was celebrated, US President Woodrow Wilson established Armistice Day.
A holiday to celebrate those who have served as well as fallen, the holiday is still celebrated on the 11th, the day of the Armistice- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
2. It wasn’t always a holiday
It wasn’t until 1938, 20 years after the end of World War I that the United States Congress officially made Armistice Day an official holiday. This came 19 years after the very first Armistice Day.
Today, Veterans Day is considered a national holiday and is celebrated on November 11. The holiday, just like any other- be it Christmas Day, Independence Day or Thanks Giving- sees most shops shut for the day as well as many areas of regional and federal government.
3. Veteran Raymond Weeks advocated the holiday from the get-go
One of the most distinguished veterans of World War II, Raymond Weeks was the person who championed the holiday of Veterans Day in place of Armistice Day. This idea first came to Weeks when he met the-then General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who took kindly to the idea of celebrating all living veterans as opposed to those who only served and died in the First World War.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower put Weeks’s vision into motion and signed a congressional bill that developed the extent of Armistice Day. Two days after the bill was signed, Congress officially changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
4. Ed Rees was the maiden recipient of the National Veterans Award
To honor the holiday’s founder Raymond Weeks, the maiden National Veterans Award was awarded in 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama, the home state of Raymond Weeks. The award is thought to be given annually to those who are deemed to have championed their county through services to the military.
The award’s first recipient was Congressman Ed Rees of Kansas who altered the legislation and ultimately transformed Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
5. Veterans Day wasn’t always celebrated on the 11th
Veterans Day was celebrated on the fourth Monday of October from 1971 to 1977. This was in line with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and it wasn’t until 1978 that the holiday moved back to its rightful date of November 11 after Gerald Ford returned the holiday to its original date in 1975.
While it continues to be celebrated on that day, Veterans Day can sometimes see businesses and strands of government close their doors on the Friday or Monday if Veterans Day falls on the 11th.
6. Every Veterans Day a wreath is laid at the tomb of an unknown soldier
On November 11th 1921, an unidentified American soldier was buried at Arlington Cemetery. As there was no way of tracing his identity, he was laid to rest in a burial site that would be known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Thus, every November 11th a wreath is placed on the high-profile national monument, either by a president or a senior member of the government. There are tombs which hold the same significance around the world, from monuments in Canada all the way to Brazil.
7. Raymond Weeks was awarded the Presidential Citizenship Medal
Raymond Weeks, as we’ve already explained, was the man responsible for Veterans Day as we know it. In recognition of his continued support for the military, President Reagen decided to award Weeks the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982, the second highest honor bestowed by the president, bettered only by the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Despite Weeks’s many accolades and his significance as a military veteran, the Orlando Sentinel ran a piece on Weeks this year that described him as an “unheralded hero” and the “father of Veterans Day,” who was a “shining light” in America’s history.
8. New York City holds the largest Veterans Day parade
America’s largest city fittingly hosts the biggest Veterans Day parade, a tradition that’s been around since 1929. In fact, over 25,000 participants each year join forces in the country’s largest Veterans Day parade. The proceedings get underway at 10 am, though an hour before the ceremony, a wreath is laid in Madison Square Park at the Eternal Light Flagstaff.
By 11 AM, an hour into the commemorations, the parade introduces the floats and marching bands.
9. President Clinton was a popular Veterans Day parade speaker
The US Department of Veterans’ Affairs runs a yearly official Veterans Day ceremony usually held at Arlington National Cemetery. Many presidents have spoken at the event, but unlike others before him, President Bill Clinton spoke at the service every year of his presidency.
A passionate supporter of the military, Clinton has given more veterans Day speeches than any other President. As someone who was rountinley criticized- perhaps unfairly- for his supposed downsizing of the military, Clinton was actually a staunch supporter of military operations and helped preserve an array of military traditions.
10. There are around 19.5 million veterans in the United States
According to recent statistics compiled by CNN, almost 20m veterans live in America. They also count for a significant portion of the population of many states. In California, Texas and Flordia, more than 1m veterans live there.
This demographic makes veterans a prime target for politicians, who see their vote as a crucial part in getting elected, especially in states where a large majority of the population area veterans, many of whom routinley vote in federal and state elections.