Veterans Day 101


Veterans Day approaches. Unlike Memorial Day which pays tribute to those who died serving in the military, Veterans Day honors all who served. The younger generation may appreciate a backgrounder on the topic while the older, seasoned generation may use it as a review.

The Great War, World War I, officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. The treaty came after seven months of on-again, off-again combat when the adversaries put a temporary stoppage in place on November 11, 1918 – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The stoppage was also called an armistice. The term, the war to end all wars, was widely used to mark the armistice.

November 11, 1919 was the inaugural Armistice Day observance, as proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson.

Federal legislation in 1938 made the 11th of November of each year a legal holiday. Armistice Day was still the term used to honor the veterans. But given World War II in the 1940s, Korea in the 50s, and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and air corps (later the Air Force), Congress amended the 1938 Act in 1954 with the term Veterans instead of Armistice.

Another federal law passed in 1968 established three-day weekends for federal employees for four national holidays on Mondays, including Veterans Day.

Old school patriotism and historic pride returned Veterans Day to its original observance on November 11th, starting in 1978. It continues to be observed on the 11th, regardless of the day of the week. Whether on a Tuesday or Saturday, Veterans Day continues to honor America’s vets for their duty, service, patriotism, and sacrifice for the greater good.

The profile of veterans is ever changing. They are older and less healthy. According to stats from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, around 389,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2019. Almost 300 die each day. Vietnam era veterans likely have a median age greater than 68 years. Memories are fading with each passing, regardless of the military branch or service era.

And what’s the oldest branch of the military, Army or Navy? Try the National Guard, established in 1636 when blacksmiths, farmers and ordinary citizens formed militias to defend the colonies against attacks. This means the Guard’s citizen-soldiers have served as the nation’s first line of defense since before America’s independence and have fought in every major conflict in America’s history.

Citizen-soldiers possess both civilian and military skills to enable the National Guard to conduct a wide array of missions, at home or overseas. Duties and roles may include aviators, engineers, emergency responders, peacekeepers, truck drivers, mechanics, and legal. Guards who deploy face disruption in careers and families for lengthy stints. Both are stark realities.

Thanking a vet is easier said than done. Many are unassuming but likely can be found next door or in the neighborhood. Here’s a tip. Attend a Veterans Day program, hopefully in person and while observing social distancing. Our veterans will be there. The St. Croix Valley thanks them all. Honor all who served.