Honoring our nation’s Veterans continues to be an evolving process, but Veterans Day is a pretty standard practice these days. However, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the WWI armistice used to be the focal point for the holiday we all know now in November. However, the armistice meaning designated to the day wasn’t enough for some who felt that although peace was achieved, the sacrifices of Veterans shouldn’t be forgotten across multiple conflicts. This is how Armistice Day transformed into Veterans Day as we know it now.
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Why Was Veterans Day Called Armistice Day?
The WWI armistice marked the end of the war. Of course, this wouldn’t be the only time in which the world would go to war, and it was far from the only time American warfighters would answer the call of duty. For these reasons, November 11 would change to include more conflicts.
Starting in 1947, more than just the armistice to end WWI came into focus. This is because World War II Veteran Raymond Weeks hosted the inaugural Veterans Day celebration in Birmingham, Alabama.
Originally named “National Veterans Day,” the event, which featured a parade and various festivities, aimed to honor all Veterans. Armistice Day would see a nationally recognized change after U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas brought up a bill to formally rename the holiday.
In 1954, Congress passed the bill, signed by President Eisenhower, officially designating the WW1 Armistice Day as Veterans Day. Raymond Weeks was honored with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Reagan in November 1982.
However, in 1968, a law changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. This didn’t last. While it took Congress a decade to right the wrong, the government would revert to November 11 as the official day of Veterans Day because of its significance to our nation and the world.
How Did World War 1 End?
The World War 1 end date, Nov 11, 1918, finally came to be after the pressures of fighting finally caught up with Germany. A civil war was brewing, as people were longing for peace. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled Germany for Holland before Germany’s new republic would ask to surrender.
While Germany had problems, the rest of the Central Powers were also facing similar struggles with their military. Europe and many other parts of the world were done with violence. The WWI Armistice of Compiègne didn’t end fighting everywhere, but it was a good start.
In 1918, war had been the norm for four years. Thirty nations decided at one point or another to pick up arms, and it would eventually collapse with the Allies emerging victorious. Still, even in the end of a war, war is hell. A ceasefire was coming but the death toll was still rising.
WWI Armistice Day Lead to a Weird, Deadly Final Six Hours of War
At the end of the Great War, everyone was tired. The death toll is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. It’s time to call it off. So, early in the morning, representatives from Germany, Britain, and France convened in a railroad dining car in a dark forest north of Paris to sign an armistice.
The decision to halt hostilities at 11 a.m., under the guidance of Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch, symbolically aligned with the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and would give time for the message to travel to the frontlines.
However, while this symbolic termination aimed to emphasize the gravity of the WWI armistice terms, thousands of fighters would die before it was all said and done. Particularly, many Americans refused to relent until the deadline to ensure that Germany knew they were still ready to go.
One particular casualty on the final day of fighting was that of American Pvt. Henry Gunther. Having suffered a demotion, Pvt. Gunther was looking for redemption. He was among the American warfighters who fought until the very end.
Unfortunately, a literal minute before the WWI armistice kicked in, he rushed German forces where he was shot in the temple and killed by a machine gunner. His life and many others before, during, and after the Great War remain honored on Veterans Day for their bravery and sacrifice.