This upcoming Thursday is Veterans Day. The national holiday is celebrated every year on Nov. 11, but, outside of federal closings and school assemblies, Veterans Day—along with its meaning—often flies under the general public’s radar. In celebration this year, here are a few key facts about Veterans Day, along with ways to give respect to those who have served their country.
History and Meaning
Veterans Day comes around every Nov. 11 no matter the day of the week it falls on. There’s an important reason behind this: the day is in honor of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” that signaled the end of World War I in 1918. Veterans day began in 1919, a year after WWI ended, as a way to celebrate those who fought in what is known as “The Great War,” and so the date has remained the same even a hundred years later.
Back when it first began, Veterans Day was called Armistice Day. However, with the additions of World War II and the Korean War not long after, a holiday set aside specifically for WWI was found lacking. At the urging of service members from every war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954. Since then, the federal holiday has been for every American veteran.
A bit of confusion came when Congress inexplicably changed Veterans Day celebrations to Oct. 4 for a brief few years in the 1970s. Many people simply ignored the change, and it wasn’t long before the holiday returned to its usual date.
Other countries besides the U.S. also celebrate a form of Veterans Day, namely those of the allied forces of WWI. Great Britain, Canada, and Australia all call the holiday “Remembrance Day.” Great Britain recognizes it on the second Sunday of November, and they conduct services, hold a parade, and observe two minutes of silence throughout London at 11 a.m. to honor those who died in their service. Australia also holds a minute of silence, though their version of the holiday is more like the U.S.’s Memorial Day. Canadians are known for wearing poppies in their celebrations—the flower became a symbol in WWI for resilience and strength when they flourished even on battlefields and at gravesides.
How to Celebrate
While visiting museums such as the National WWI Museum and Memorial and the National WWII Museum is a wonderful, eye-opening experience year-round, they also put on events specifically for Veterans Day, including discounted entry. Make sure to check out local events, too—most areas host Veterans Day celebrations, whether it be in form of a school assembly, parade, or events at local museums.
There are many opportunities to give back monetarily, too. Several organizations are dedicated to helping veterans, especially those who have been injured. One of these is Home for Our Troops, which builds specially adapted custom homes for severely injured post-9/11 veterans, allowing them the freedom and independence to rebuild their lives. Others include the Wounded Warrior Project, which supports wounded warriors (physically or psychologically) and their families through rehabilitation and career counseling, and the USO, which provides active service members with everything from comfort food packages, phone calls home, and the ability to record a bedtime story to send to their children.
However, one of the easiest—yet most impactful—ways to honor a veteran is to simply approach them to thank them for their service. If you identify someone who has served, either by their uniform, or a ballcap, or any other indicator, stopping to say a few words of thanks, or asking a few questions about their service, goes a long way. While this is especially true around Veterans Day, thanking those who risked their lives for freedom is a great practice year-round.