n 1918, at eleven a. m., on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, the Armistice between the Allies and Germans was signed. World War I, called the “war to end all wars,” was over.
November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States, to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during the war in order to ensure a lasting peace. On Armistice Day, soldiers who survived the war marched in parades through their hometowns. Politicians and veteran officers gave speeches and held ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won.
President Woodrow Wilson, in his Armistice Day proclamation in November 1919, 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 nation.
Congress voted Armistice Day a legal holiday in 1938, twenty years after the war ended. But Americans realized that the previous war would
not be the last one. World War II began the following year, and nations great and small again participated in a long and terrible struggle. After the Second World War, Armistice Day continued to be observed. But many veterans of World War II, and later the Korean War, had little connection to the First World War, and often felt that Armistice Day was not significant for them. They wanted to make a change in the holiday to include veterans of other American wars, not only World War I.
In 1953, townspeople in Emporia, Kansas, celebrated the holiday as “Veterans Day” in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill to rename the day, and in 1954 President Eisenhower officially changed the name of the national holiday to Veterans Day.
Traditional Veterans Day celebrations, in many towns and cities, may include ceremonies, parades, concerts and speeches. At 11:00 in the morning, in some communities, Americans observe a moment of silence, remembering those who have fought in war. The President of the United States lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, honoring all of America’s soldiers who have fallen in war.
After the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, the emphasis on Veterans Day activities
shifted. Now there are fewer military parades and ceremonies, and people honor the day in a more introspective and personal way. Veterans and their families gather at war memorials such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C., where they place gifts and stand in quiet vigil at the names, etched in granite, of their comrades, friends, and relatives who died in the war. People often gather at other national monuments such as those dedicated to World War II and the Korean War, as well as at Arlington National Cemetery where U. S. veterans from any war may be buried. Throughout the United States, families who have lost sons, daughters, and other family members to war, lay flowers and wreaths at local monuments and gravesites, as they turn their thoughts toward peace and the avoidance of future wars.
The trials and hardships of veterans are honored and remembered through the National World War II (WWII)
Registry and the Veterans History Project. The WWII Memorial Registry is an individual listing of
Americans who contributed to the war effort, comprised of those who signed up for the Registry of Remembrances as well as from other official U. S. government lists. The Veterans History Project was created by the United States Congress and signed into law on October 2, 2000, by President Clinton. It is a project of the Library of Congress and it relies on volunteers to collect and preserve stories and accounts of U. S. veterans. The focus is primarily on 20th century military conflicts in which U. S. soldiers played a role: World War I (1914-1920), World War II (1939-1946), Korean War (1950-1955), Vietnam War (1961-1975), Persian Gulf War (1990-1995), though it also includes more recent conflicts. The Project collects oral history interviews, memoirs, letters, diaries, photographs, and other original materials from veterans of these wars.
Surviving veterans of military service—today numbering more than 25 million—find support in organized groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of For-
eign Wars. On Veterans Day and Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable activities that support disabled veterans and their families. There are also organizations for veterans who oppose war, such as Veterans for Peace, a national organization begun in 1985 that works to raise public awareness of the consequences of war and seeks peaceful alternatives to war.
By remembering veterans and all that they went through, perhaps the leaders of nations will strive to find peaceful solutions to world problems, using war only as a very last resort.
rejoice(d): v. celebrate with joy; to be happy bitter: adj. difficult to bear; distasteful
etch(ed): v. carve on stone or other hard surface wreath(s): n. an arrangement of flowers or leaves in a ring, used for decoration avoidance: n. act of preventing
trial(s): n. a situation that tests a person’s endurance or tolerance
registry: n. an official list comprise(d): v. to consist of; to be made up of memoir(s): n. a written account of one’s memory of certain events
American Legion: phrase. a national association of former servicemen and servicewomen charitable: adj. relating to assistance to people in need disabled: adj. a person having a physical or mental condition that limits his or her movement, senses, or activities
armistice: n. an agreement to end fighting; a truce Allies: n. those nations (primarily the British Empire,
France, and the Russian Empire) that joined together
in opposition to the Central Powers (Germany, Austria – Hungary, and Turkey) during World War I sacrifice(s): n. giving up of important things ensure: v. to make certain; to guarantee parade(s): n. a public procession or display of people, animals, and/or formations moving in a single line politician(s): n. an elected government official veteran: n. a member of the armed forces, now retired or discharged
proclamation: n. an official or public announcement reflection(s): n. the thought or opinion or remark made after consideration of something heard or read or an event
solemn: adj. serious
heroism: n. conduct having qualities of a hero gratitude: n. thankfulness
sympathy: n. association (with); inclination (to)
council(s): n. a committee or legal body appointed or
chosen to carry out a set of objectives
participate(d): v. to be actively involved in
struggle: n. a great effort; a fight; a war
significant: adj. meaningful; important
bill: n. a proposed law in government
observe(d): v. to respect or follow a law or custom
fallen: (adj) killed in battle
shift(ed): v. to change
vigil: n. watchful, solemn guard
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The sight and sound of a ringing bell on the Fourth of July symbolizes freedom to most Americans and brings to mind the Liberty Bell, which rang out in Philadelphia when the new country was born.
The Liberty Bell once hung in the Old State House, which later became Independence Hall, in Philadelphia. It was rung at every important national event, such as presidential elections, statesmen’s funerals, and of course, the Fourth of July. The bell came to Philadelphia from a foundry in England in 1752. But the very first time the bell was rung, it cracked! Repairs were made and for the next eighty-three years, the bell tolled on special occasions—the most significant on July 8, 1776 to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Sometime after 1846, the Liberty Bell cracked again and it was removed from the bell tower to protect it from further damage. It was placed on display in Independence Hall. Today, the bell is housed in the Liberty Bell Center, which is open to visitors year round, and is part of the Independence National Historic Park.
At one time, the foundry in England that had made the bell generously offered to take the cracked bell, melt it down and cast it anew, at no charge. But American officials decided to keep the old Liberty Bell as it was. They felt that the American people loved the old bell, and that the crack in the bell was a cherished part of its character and legacy.
From time to time, it is suggested that the song, “America the Beautiful” be made the national anthem, in place of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” [See Flag Day, p. 87] Proponents of this idea argue that “America the Beautiful” is a better national anthem because it praises the whole country, not only the flag, and it was not written as a result of a war.