By Willie M. Calhoun
MSG, USAR, Retired Combat Related Disabled Vietnam Veteran, USMC

On Veterans Day 2021, we will honor, commemorate, and celebrate all American military Veterans of all wars. This year Veterans Day falls on Thursday, November 11, 2021. This means the Federal Government will observe the holiday on Thursday, November 11, 2021. If November 11 would have fallen on a Saturday or Sunday, the federal government would have observed the holiday on the previous Friday or the following Monday respectively. More importantly, the Federal Government can only designate and celebrate holidays for federal employees and the District of Columbia (Washington, DC). In America there are no “National Holidays.” States retain many cherished constitutional rights. One of these rights is to designate and celebrate their own holidays. An example of States asserting their rights is important in the development of the Veterans Day story.

Before Monday October 25, 1971, Veterans Day was observed by the federal Government on November 11 regardless of the day of the week the holiday fell upon. During 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The aim of the Act was to ensure Federal employees a three -day weekend for all Federal Holidays. Three Federal holidays were to fall on Mondays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day). Additionally, Columbus Day was to become a federal Holiday and it too were to fall on Mondays. Supporters of the Act felt it would give federal employees and possibly state and other employees an extra paid holiday. Opponents of the Bill, which included military organizations, were concerned of the Act’s effects on the true meaning of America’s two military holidays-Veterans Day and Memorial Day. There was also opposition from religious leaders who voiced concerns of a possible reduction in Sunday School attendance. Nevertheless, the act became law with little opposition.

Soon after the Uniform Holiday Bill became law in 1971 several U. S. lawmakers began a sober assessment of the new law’s impact on America and how we observe our military holidays. U.S. Senator of South Carolina, Storm Thurmond is quoted as saying “While the rationale behind such a law may have been admirable to provide a three- day holiday, the results diminished patriotism and history”. Another U. S. Senator William Scott from Virginia expressed his dismay at the new law by saying “if we are only interested in having three-day weekends, we might as well have federal holiday number one, and so forth, if they really have no significance”.

Military organizations immediately begin supporting a return of military holidays to their original observation dates (Veterans Day November 11 and Memorial Day May 30). U. S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was deeply disappointed by the new law. He expressed his disappointment by reintroducing legislation returning Memorial Day to its original observance date of May 30. At the start of every Congressional term, the Senator introduced this legislation for 20 years until his death in 2012. Senator Inouye was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor in combat during World War II.

The Uniform Monday Holiday law was to take effect in 1971. Under the new law Veterans day was to be observed on Monday October 25, 1971. On that day many states refused to observe the new Veterans Day and continued to observe the original Veterans Day of November 11. Needless to say this situation created a fair amount of confusion. This standoff between some states and the Federal Government continued until 1975. In that year a frustrated U. S. President Gerald R. Ford signed a new law returning the observance date of Veterans Day to November 11 starting in 1978. President Ford was equally aware of the historical significance of the actual date of 11 November as he was of the popularity of the three- day weekend. Therefore, a diplomatic sentence was incorporated into the law–“If November 11 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Federal Government will observe the holiday on the previous Friday or the following Monday respectively”.

Readers may question how America came to associate the solemnity of Veterans Day with fun and festivities of a three- day weekend. Also, there seems to be a stark contrast between solemn commemorations held on Memorial Day and the jovial atmosphere of a three -day weekend. Jennifer Mittelstadt, History Professor at Rutgers University, explains “It has everything to do with commerce in the United States”. The Professor adds “Travel organizations had been pushing for a three-day weekend like this since the 1950’s and finally got employee’s unions on board and the Federal employees union on board because there was a fair amount of agreement that it’d be good for business”. Another History Professor, Matthew Dennis at the University of Oregon states, “This loss of memory and shift into recreation and leisure is a trend in American history”. He also suggested a Link between the low levels of patriotism at that time in America to the Vietnam war.

There are several reasons the actual date of 11 November is significant and memorable to those of my generation. As children, we learned World War 1 ended at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, on the 11th month. I also remember my grandfather lamenting the name change from Armistice Day to Veterans day in 1954. He and other World 1 veterans felt changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day might belittle their sacrifice during that war. In fact, the name change was to recognize the sacrifices of all American veterans of all wars. He continued to refer to 11 November as “Armistice Day”. I didn’t dare attempt to correct him. Though I don’t recall how he felt about changing the observation date of his revered “Armistice Day” (November 11) to Monday October 25 in 1971, I’m sure he was upset. As it turned out, America too was upset at the change of the observance date of Veterans Day.