Veterans Day is a holiday that we in 2009 dont quite know what to do with. Its not usually a three-day weekend, so its not known for getaways or shopping sales. Though federal government employees have the day off, many non-government businesses stay open instead preferring to give their employees the Friday after Thanksgiving as a holiday. Students at Alexandria City Public Schools have the day off, but its designated a teacher work day and not as a Veterans Day holiday.
Why is this holiday so overlooked? After all, were fighting two wars, soldiers continue to be brought home in caskets and there are approximately 25 million living veterans in America. Perhaps, in addition to the holidays proximity to Thanksgiving, it is sometimes overlooked because people in most parts of the country place greater emphasis on Memorial Day, when we honor deceased military veterans.
Though Veterans Day might get more attention if it became a three-day weekend, it is as tied to the date November 11 as Independence Day is to July 4. (The Federal Government tried briefly in the early 1970s to turn Veterans Day into just another three-day weekend, but the move met with resistance from many states and by 1975 it had returned to November 11.) The day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day, commemorating the cessation of fighting in World War I. The armistice took place in the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918. Thus, most official ceremonies celebrating Veterans Day, including the official national ceremony in Arlington Cemetery, start precisely at 11 a.m. Armistice Day is still celebrated each November 11 by Allied countries, though in Great Britain it is now called Remembrance Day.
In November 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day, 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 countrys service and with gratitude for the victory It wasnt until 1938, however, that Armistice Day was made a legal holiday and was dedicated to the cause of world peace (a worthy goal, as World War II loomed ominously ahead).
By 1954, America had fought both World War II and the Korean War and public sentiment favored changing the holidays name to honor all of our countrys veterans and not just those from The Great War. In May of that year, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill officially changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
Veterans Day, like many of our national holidays, is a day to pause and give thanks for others who have sacrificed for us. Granted its not terribly convenient for shopping or travel. Many of us dont even have the day off from work. But, we should stop and think of the soldiers who are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, or before them, in the Gulf War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and World War II. So, if your day permits, take in the ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, which promises to be beautiful and moving, or head over to Alexandrias Rocky Versace statue at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center for our citys Veterans Day salute at 12:30 p.m.
We owe all of our active duty military personnel and veterans of wars thanks for their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the rest of us.