I want to congratulate you and your loved ones on celebrating a happy Armistice Day today. Oh, you may be more familiar with the term Veterans Day. As a child of the public school system, I loved that I got November 11 off every year at school. The only thing I knew about this holiday was that it was my Father's birthday. Happy 79th Birthday, Dad!
It was always my Dad's joke with us kids that he never had to attend school on his birthday. My Father was born November 11, 1943, and celebrated Armistice Day until it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. As a result, all the U.S. schoolkids never went to school on his birthday.
So why do we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11? The Germans had stopped their fighting and agreed to lay down their weapons.
World War I formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice (agreement to stop fighting) with Germany went into effect.
A year later, on November 11, 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to his fellow citizens on the first Armistice Day, in which he expressed what this day meant to Americans.
His speech included the sacrifice of human life to protect our allies and our ability to bring the vast, material, and moral resources of great and free people to the assistance of Europe. Wilson ended his speech with the idea that we have solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.
Pick a Date
Seven years later, The United States Congress adopted a resolution on June 4, 1926, requesting that President Calvin Coolidge issue annual proclamations calling for the observance of November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. Furthermore, a Congressional Act approved May 13, 1938, made November 11 each year a legal holiday: a day dedicated to the cause of world peace and celebrated and known as Armistice Day.
In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, wanted to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks petitioned Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of National Veterans Day. In 1947, Weeks led the first national celebration in Alabama and annually until he died in 1985. After years of work, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954. It had been eight and a half years since Weeks held his first Armistice Day celebration for all veterans. A month later, Congress amended the bill, replacing "Armistice" with "Veterans." Finally, President Reagan honored Weeks at the White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 as the driving force for the national holiday.
A man Who Cared
Who was this Raymond Weeks, and why did he work so hard to make Veterans Day a celebration of all people who serve in the Military? Returning home from the Navy on 11/9/45 as WWII ended, Weeks' postwar activities were numerous.
He would serve three terms in the Alabama House of Representatives and civic organizations ranging from March of Dimes, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Civitan Club of Birmingham, and the American Legion. He was honored with a National Community Service Award, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Award, and a Distinguished Service Medal from the Governor of Alabama. However, it was as an organizer for a "National Veterans Day" that Weeks got his greatest recognition. Weeks became the founder and national chair of the effort. He believed that all veterans needed to be recognized, not only those who perished, as was the case for Decorations Day or Memorial Day.
I wanted to make this distinction stand out to you, the reader. We rightfully mourn our dead, especially those who die in war. But for Raymond, it was essential to let the country know that men and women sacrificed part of their identity when they either volunteered or were drafted into these wars. Your support of the veterans neither condones nor denies the wars they served in; it just says you recognize their sacrifice.
It only Takes a couple of Minutes
As a rule, the government requests two minutes of silence at 2:11 pm Eastern Standard Time. Let's see if we can provide a couple of minutes of awareness for our military past and present. I believe that recognition is simply enough to change everything.