This year, November 11 marks exactly 100 years after World War I ended on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. Germany announced its surrender to the allies after realizing its hopeless military situation and facing internal revolts. Kaiser Wilhelm had abdicated and fled to the Netherlands two days earlier. This became known as Armistice Day, the previous name of what we now call Veterans Day. Not to be confused with Memorial Day, which occurs during the last Monday in May and remembers those who died in our conflicts, Veterans Day honors those who have served in the US Armed Forces, whether in wartime or only in times of peace.
On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to the American people on the first anniversary of the War’s ending. On that day in 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For two days prior, the Unknown Soldier had lain in state in the US Capitol Rotunda where an estimated 90,000 visitors walked past. However, annual observances honoring those who had died in the Great War, as World War I
is still called, came only when a 1926 Congressional resolution was at last approved in 1938.
In 1945, as the Second World War was ending, Navy veteran Raymond Weeks from Alabama envisioned the idea to have Armistice Day honor all veterans, not only those who died in World War I. He petitioned it and personally delivered it to General of the Army, Dwight Eisenhower, who approved it. As President in 1954, Eisenhower signed the bill presented by US Representative, Edward Rees, to officially make it a national holiday honoring all veterans as Weeks had intended, renaming it Veterans Day. Weeks led Veterans Day celebrations annually, beginning on November 11, 1947, in his home state before it became official, until his death in 1985. Known as the ‘Father of Veterans Day’, Weeks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1982.
As a federal holiday, November 11 is a day of observance. Non-essential federal offices are closed in addition to some businesses in the private sector and schools.
Veterans Day parades are held, the largest of which is in New York City whereby approximately 25,000 servicemen and women march along Fifth Avenue in full military colors, before which a wreath is laid at the Eternal Light Flagstaff in Madison Square Park, as it has since 1919.
A symbol that has been shared by a number of countries, including the US, to observe November 11 as a day to honor its veterans, is the Remembrance Poppy. This artificial flower representing the Papaver rhoeas was inspired by the 1915 poem In Flanders Fields by
Canadian Army doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who later died of pneumonia in 1918. The Poppy was promoted by American professor, Moina Michael of Georgia, and was originally adopted by the American Legion Auxiliary in 1921. Used primarily in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations, the Poppy is worn or displayed from All Souls’ Day on November 2 until around the observances of both Armistice Day and Remembrance Day on November 11. An additional observance, Remembrance Sunday, occurs on the second Sunday of that month and honors Commonwealth veterans of both World Wars and subsequent conflicts.
There are other observances for those who have served in the US Armed Forces. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and officially began in 1868. Armed Forces Day, celebrated on the third Saturday of May, has been observed since 1950 to honor those currently in the military. Each branch celebrates its own birthday, including the Marine Corps Birthday on November 10 in conjunction with Veterans Day consisting of a 96-hour liberty period. In recent years, President Obama proclaimed Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29, 2012. President Trump followed on this to officially sign the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 which officially recognizes National Vietnam War Veterans Day to be held annually on March 29.
The US Navy League Singapore Council invites you to join us in observing a moment of silence at 11am on November 11 in honor of US veterans. Veterans Day is not only a time to remember the sacrifices and contributions of US service men and women in war. Perhaps, more importantly, it is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of the value of peace and the very great service veterans give to protect it.
Marc is a veteran of the US Army. He was stationed in Germany during the middle 1980s while enlisted, working with the Belgian Army and later served as a Signal Corps commissioned officer in the Indiana Army National Guard.