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Veterans Day
Major holiday before thisColumbus Day
Major holiday after thisThanksgiving

Veterans Day 2018 and 2019 in the United States

Veterans Day is a holiday held every 11 November to honor all military personnel who have served in the U.S. armed forces.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
201811 NovSunVeterans Day National except WI
12 NovMonVeterans Day Holiday National except WI
201911 NovMonVeterans Day National except WI
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Veterans Day was originally called “Armistice Day,” and the date was chosen to commemorate the signing of the armistice with Germany that ended hostilities during World War I.

“My Fellow Countrymen: The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober friendly counsel and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.” – President Woodrow Wilson, quoted in New York’s The Evening World newspaper on 11 November 1918.

The armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, however it did not officially end that war. The official end came on 28 June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. On the other hand, since the U.S. never signed the Treaty of Versailles like the other Allies, one could say that, for the U.S. at least, the 11 November armistice really did end the war.

In the immediate years after Armistice Day, the focus of the celebrations was on the veterans of World War I. However, the day was always meant to honor all veterans of foreign wars who risked their lives on the battle field to secure the freedoms of all Americans.

In 1926 Congress finally decided to declare that World War I was over. It was odd for this recognition of an existing reality to come seven years late. But without the U.S. agreeing to the Treaty of Versailles, there had been no official end to the war. Congress also expressed a desire for 11 November to be a legal holiday, following the lead of 27 states to have already done so. Congress called for the holiday to be a day of prayer and thanksgiving and expressed a desire that the U.S. flag be on display during this day and that special ceremonies be held.

Armistice Day finally became a permanent, official public holiday in 1938. Eerily enough, the holiday designed to honor World War I veterans became official only a few years before World War II arrived.

Over time, particularly once World War II was fought (and then the Korean and Vietnam wars), the focus on the 1918 Armistice was lost and the name of the holiday was changed. Additionally, Veterans Day is generally regarded today as honoring all those who ever served in the U.S. Armed Force rather than only those who actually fought in a war.

The next stage in the history of Veterans Day came in 1954, when it received its present name. Congress made the change when pressed to do so by various private veterans organizations.

A debacle involving Veterans Day came in 1971 when Congress changed the date from 11 November to the fourth Monday in October. This led to chaos because many states refused to recognize the change. Some would be celebrating in November while others did so in October, and the resistance to the date change never broke down. Finally, the date was changed back to 11 November beginning in 1978.

Another interesting Veterans Day “conflict” involves a matter of grammar and spelling. Today, many people spell the holiday as “Veterans’ Day,” but the official government-approved spelling is “Veterans Day.“ The explanation given is that the adjectival spelling instead of the possessive-case spelling shows that the holiday is about honoring veterans rather than a day that belongs to them.

Many observe Veterans Day by simply flying the U.S. flag at their house, having a picnic or cook out with friends and family, and watching war movies or other patriotic programming on TV. Many also donate to veterans’ causes and show appreciation to veterans they meet or are already acquainted with, and some veterans will don their military uniforms on this day, making themselves “easy to spot.”

Veterans Day activities and events

Four ideas on what to do in the U.S. on Veterans Day are:

  • Attend the Veterans Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. You can watch the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You may also wish to respectfully walk through the cemetery, where over 40,000 veterans and their families are buried.
  • Watch America’s Parade, originally “the Veterans Day Parade,” in New York City. This is the largest Veterans Day parade in the country, bringing in around 25,000 attendees each year. It is held in Manhattan and has been running since 1919. There are also some other large parades to attend, including the biggest one west of the Mississippi River in Albany, Oregon, and there are many smaller parades as well.
  • Tour the memorials and monuments in Washington, D.C., that are related in some way to veterans. There are too many to list, but look for the DC War Memorial, which honors local World War I veterans, the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
  • Spend the day, or part of it, volunteering at a local VA hospital or even just chatting with veterans who are there as patients. Many VAs will have special lunches on Veterans Day for the veterans, and they welcome volunteers to help prepare the meal.