World War I -- known at the time as "The Great War" - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of "the war to end all wars."
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "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..."
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November 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." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation's history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible."
On that same day, President Eisenhower sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans' Affairs (VA), designating him as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee.
In 1958, the White House advised VA's General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee's chairman.
The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.
The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.
Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
History of Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day - also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day - is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. (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.) The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war; this was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.
Common British, Canadian, South African, and ANZAC traditions include two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:00 am, 11 November), as that marks the time (in the United Kingdom) when armistice became effective.
The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of "Last Post," followed by the two minutes of silence, followed by the sounding of "Reveille" (or, more commonly, "The Rouse"), and finished by a recitation of the "Ode of Remembrance." The "Flowers of the Forest", "O Valiant Hearts", "I Vow to Thee, My Country" and "Jerusalem" are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honour the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.
In the United Kingdom, although two minutes of silence are observed on 11 November itself, the main observance is on the second Sunday of November, Remembrance Sunday. Ceremonies are held at local war memorials, usually organised by local branches of the Royal British Legion - an association for ex-servicemen. Typically, poppy wreaths are laid by representatives of the Crown, the armed forces, and local civic leaders, as well as by local organisations including ex-servicemen organisations, cadet forces, the Scouts, Guides, Boys' Brigade, St John Ambulance and the Salvation Army. The start and end of the silence is often also marked by the firing of a cannon. A minute's or two minutes' silence is also frequently incorporated into church services, and even everyday locations such as supermarkets and banks may invite their customers and staff to fall silent at 11:00 am.
The main national commemoration is held at Whitehall, in Central London, for dignitaries, the public, and ceremonial detachments from the armed forces and civilian uniformed services such as the Merchant Navy, Her Majesty's Coastguard, etc. Members of the British Royal Family walk through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office towards the Cenotaph, assembling to the right of the monument to wait for Big Ben to strike 11:00 am, and for the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery at Horse Guards Parade, to fire the cannon marking the commencement of the two minutes of silence. Following this, "Last Post" is sounded by the buglers of the Royal Marines. "The Rouse" is then sounded by the trumpeters of the Royal Air Force, after which, to "Beethoven's Funeral March" (composed by Johann Heinrich Walch), wreaths are laid by attendees in the following order: the Queen; senior members of the Royal Family attending in military uniform; the Prime Minister; the leaders of the major political parties from all parts of the United Kingdom; Commonwealth High Commissioners to London, on behalf of their respective nations; the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the British Dependencies; the Chief of the Defence Staff; the First Sea Lord; the Chief of the General Staff; the Chief of the Air Staff; representatives of the merchant navy and Fishing Fleets and the merchant air service. Junior members of the Royal Family usually watch the service from the balcony of the Foreign Office. The service is generally conducted by the Bishop of London, with a choir from the Chapels Royal, in the presence of representatives of all major faiths in the United Kingdom. Before the marching commences, the members of the Royal Family and public sing the national anthem before the Royal Delegation lead out after the main service.
In Canada, Remembrance Day is a public holiday, as well as being a statutory holiday everywhere except Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories. The official national ceremonies are held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, presided over by the Governor General of Canada, any members of the Canadian Royal Family (such as Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, in 2009), the Prime Minister, and other dignitaries, to the observance of the public. Typically, these events begin with the tolling of the Carillon in the Peace Tower, during which serving members of the Canadian Forces (CF) arrive at Confederation Square, followed by the Ottawa diplomatic corps, Ministers of the Crown, special guests, the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL), the viceregal party, and, if present, the royal party. Before the start of the ceremony, four armed sentries and three sentinels - two flag sentinels and one nursing sister - are posted at the foot of the cenotaph.
In Australia Remembrance Day is always observed on 11 November, although the day is not a public holiday. Services are held at 11am at war memorials and schools in suburbs and towns across the country, at which "Last Post" is sounded by a bugler and a one-minute silence is observed. In recent decades, however, Remembrance Day has been partly eclipsed by ANZAC Day (25 April) as the national day of war commemoration.
New Zealand's national day of remembrance is Anzac Day, 25 April. "Poppy Day" usually occurs on the Friday before Anzac Day. Some services are held on 11 November, which is generally referred to as Armistice Day.