To some, Veterans Day is simply a day off from work, a flag ceremony at school, a solemn federal holiday. But to people with family members in the United States Armed Forces, it’s a celebration to thank living veterans for their service, and honor those who died for our country.
On Nov. 11, check out the National Veterans Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. A uniformed sentinel stands guard at the white marble tomb — the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Sculpted into the tomb’s east panel are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. Inscribed on the back are these words:
Here rests in honored glory
An American soldier known but to God
At precisely 11 a.m. the observance begins. A wreath is placed at the tomb, followed by a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations inside the Memorial Amphitheater.
But what’s the real story behind our Veterans Day observance?
Armistice or Veterans? An armistice is a binding ceasefire, an agreement to stop fighting. Armistice Day, instituted in 1919, was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I. But in 1954, after World War II, Congress replaced “Armistice” with “Veterans,” making Nov. 11 a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
The Significance of 11. Near the end of World War I, the armistice between the Allies and Germany went into effect on Nov. 11, 1918 — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Solemn Ceremony or Holiday? According to a resolution passed by Congress in 1926, the day was initially to be celebrated with parades, prayer, public meetings, school and church programs, and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. — Nov. 11 didn’t become a legal holiday until 1938.
Getting the Date Straight. The Uniform Holiday Bill was enacted to give federal employees three-day weekends by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. The first Veterans Day under this new law was observed on Oct. 25, 1971 — to public outrage. The sacred historic significance of the number 11 had been desecrated! In 1978 Veterans Day returned to its original date of Nov. 11, regardless of the day of the week.
Who’s in the Tomb? The Tomb of the Unknowns is the symbolic resting place of an unidentified American soldier from World War I. The soldier has never been officially named. Why? Because this unknown, unnamed soldier represents all soldiers, every member of the armed forces who has served and sacrificed in every war.