Being the daughter of a U.S. Air Force captain, you would think I would have more of a clue about Veterans Day.
But I didn’t, except to know that is to honor military veterans. But then there’s Memorial Day, and, well, confusion reigned.
Even a brief Air Force Brat should know these things. (My father died in the line of duty when I was 6-years-old.) So I Googled, searched, read and learned. Now, of course, I want to share.
Originally known as Armistice Day, the federal holiday was officially renamed in 1954, the year of my birth. Armistice Day has a longer history than I do. In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor — Westminster Abbey, the Arc de Triomphe.
These burials took place on Nov. 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918: The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The day became known as “Armistice Day.”
Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar Congressional action.
Armistice Day was even more significant because World War I was the “war to end all wars.”
Then WWII happened.
The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama. WWII veteran Raymond Weeks, who in 1982 received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Ronald Reagan, chose Armistice Day as a day to honor all veterans and called it National Veterans Day. There were parades, speeches and other festivities. A national bill followed and passed in 1954 to officially change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
By the way, as leaving off the apostrophe offends my journalistic brain, I also had to research that. It turns out that the arbitrator of journalistic style, AP, says that since the federal government left off the apostrophe when it named the holiday, it doesn’t get one.
A blip in the Veterans Day observances happened when Congress passed a law in 1968 that changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. The new law caused more confusion that anything else, with celebrations still occurring on Nov. 11 in many places. In 1978, Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.
My confusion with Memorial Day, which is in May, is a common one. Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service, like my father. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all military veterans, like my husband.
Perhaps we can all agree today. It’s a good day to say, “Thank you for your service.”
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.