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Veterans Day: A Day to Honor Those Who Served – Lesson

veterans day

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

What began as a day to honor the survivors of WWI became a day for all veterans.

Veterans Day is the day we honor and celebrate our heroes, the military men and women who put their lives on the line to protect the American way of life. The observance of this day began a long time ago, after World War I. The war ended with an armistice, and this day was originally called Armistice Day.

Armistice Day

World War I began in 1914. It was the first modern war, with modern weapons – people were so shocked by the violence and large size of the conflict that it became known as the “war to end all wars.” By November 1918, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire) and the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, the United States) had been battling each other for four years and were exhausted.

The Allied forces had been pushing back the Germans. Americans were able to send in fresh troops, so Germany was outmatched and started to crumble. The outcome of the war seemed clear. Even though the US could have invaded Germany, it would cost too much and everyone was tired of the war. The Germans understood their weaknesses and knew they would not be able to win.

Germany asked for an armistice, an agreement to end the war that saved either side from claiming victory or defeat. It took several days, but the accord was signed on November 11, and for the first time in years, the sound of mortars and gunfire ceased. This happened at the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month and is why we all take a moment of silence at this time each year.

world war one

(Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images)

One year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day. In 1926, it became a permanent legal holiday. Great Britain, France, Australia, and Canada also celebrate this day on or near this date: Canada has Remembrance Day, while Britain has Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday of November).

Veterans Day

While Armistice Day celebrated the end of World War I and those who fought during that conflict, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all veterans from all conflicts.

Today, Americans honor their heroes by holding parades, hoisting the US flag outside their homes, getting together with families, and visiting deceased loved ones at cemeteries. Arlington National Cemetery holds an annual memorial service.

Interesting Facts

Since 2016, the largest number of current US veterans served in the Middle East. Previously, most veterans had been in the Vietnam War, which took place during the 1960s. The Pew Research Center stated in 2021, “there are 5.9 million American veterans who served during the Vietnam era and 7.8 million who served in the Gulf War era, which spans from August 1990 through the present.”

veterans day

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Around one in ten veterans (9%) are women.

Of US veterans, more than three-quarters (78%) served in wartime.

Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, just under 500,000 were still alive as of 2018.

Two million veterans served during the Korean War.

As of 2017, Alaska, Maine, and Montana were the states with the most veterans.

Less Americans are joining the military than in earlier years, and fewer members of Congress are veterans than before.

According to the Pew Research Center, “the US public say people who have served in the military are more disciplined, patriotic, and loyal than those who have not served.”