By Willie M. Calhoun,MSG,USAR,Ret
Shortly after 5 am (Paris’ time) on Nov. 11, 1918 an Armistice was signed near Compiegne, (pronounced KAWN-PYEN-YUH), France.
The signers of this pact were the victorious Allies (America included) and the defeated Germany. The time it was signed is now a historical footnote, but the time it went into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,
is annually commemorated and celebrated around the world. This Armistice brought about a cease
fire which was the beginning of the end of what was called at that time “the Great War.” After
witnessing the horrors of a World War for four years, it was welcomed as a sign that World
Peace was insight. Indeed World peace did come, but with such a high price that the month,
day, and even the hour of the Armistice taking effect was destined to be remembered for at least
100 years! Aged World War I veterans continue to refer to celebrations on Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, even though Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day in 1954. The pride of their youthful contributions and sacrifices for World Peace lingered.
After the Armistice took effect, a global movement began to honor the estimated 20
million who died during the Great War. Many nations did this in various ways. The idea of a
pause or a moment of silence at 11 am on Nov.11 took hold in some nations as a way to
honor their dead. In America, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Proclamation making
Nov. 11, 1919 the first National day of Celebration of Armistice day. In this proclamation,
he requested the day be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the
country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” In 1929, while officially ending the Great
War, Congress passed a resolution urging the President to issue an annual proclamation calling
for the observance of Armistice Day. Armistice Day was made a Federal Holiday in 1938.
The intent was to honor veterans of the Great War.
What was largely unthinkable in 1918 happened in 1938-another World War. At that time the
Great War became known as World War I and the war currently being fought was
chronologically designated as World War II. More than 16 million servicepersons were
mobilized to serve in World War II making it the largest call-up in the nation’s history. This
war ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan that were capable of rendering
mass destruction beyond the imagination. About five years after the end of this war,
American Armed Forces were called to prevent communist aggression in South Korea. With
public pressure mounting, Congress felt it was time to update the 1938 legislation honoring
only World War I veterans. This update was done in 1954 by deleting the words “Armistice
day” and inserting the words “Veterans Day” in the original Armistice day Bill. Nov. 11
was then to be celebrated and commemorated as a day to honor all American veterans of all
past, present, and future wars.
Yet another event in the Veterans Day saga took place in 1968 when Congress passed the
Uniform Holiday Bill requiring Veterans Day to be celebrated on Mondays. The first
implementation of the law required Monday Oct. 25, 1971 to be observed as Veterans day.
Some states ignored this law and continued celebrating Nov. 11 as Veterans day. These
states asserted states rights in designating and celebrating holidays. To avoid further confusion,
in 1968 President Gerald Ford signed a public law returning the annual observance of Veterans
day to Nov. 11. If Nov. 11 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Federal Government
observes the holiday on the previous Friday or the following Monday, respectively.