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Harris Sherline: The History Behind Veterans Day

By Harris Sherline, Noozhawk Columnist |

Veterans Day is an official U.S. holiday honoring armed service veterans.

It is a federal holiday that is observed on Nov. 11 and coincides with other holidays, such as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, that are celebrated in other parts of the world and mark the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.


President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed Armistice Day for Nov. 11, 1919.

In proclaiming the holiday, he said, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926, requesting that President Calvin Coolidge issue another proclamation to observe Nov. 11 with appropriate ceremonies. A congressional act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made Nov. 11 in each year a legal holiday — “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.”

In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Ala., had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks led a delegation to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of National Veterans Day. Weeks then led the first national celebration in 1947 in Alabama and annually until his death in 1985.

President Ronald Reagan honored Weeks at the White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 as the driving force for the national holiday. Elizabeth Dole, who prepared the briefing for Reagan, determined Weeks as the “Father of Veterans Day.”

Rep. Ed Rees of Emporia, Kan., presented a bill establishing the holiday through Congress. Eisenhower, as president, also from Kansas, signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954.

Congress amended this act on June 1, 1954, replacing “Armistice” with “Veterans,” and it has been known as Veterans Day since.

The National Veterans Award, created in 1954, also started in Birmingham, Ala. Rees was honored in Alabama as the first recipient of the award for his support offering legislation to make Veterans Day a federal holiday, which marked nine years of effort by Weeks.

Although originally scheduled for celebration on Nov. 11 of every year, starting in 1971 in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. In 1978, it was moved back to its original celebration on Nov. 11.


Veterans Day in Norway was instituted in 2010 by Norway’s Cabinet and falls on Victory in Europe Day — May 8. The choice of day has been criticized by leader (Bjørnar Moxnes) of political party Rødt, saying one must differentiate between a defensive fight against an occupation force and offensive military operations outside Norway.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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