History of Veterans Day
Although World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles, fighting ceased seven months earlier after an armistice between the allied nations and Germany commenced on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. In an address to the nation on that 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 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 nations.”
Armistice Day was set aside to honor veterans of World War I. But after World War II required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in the nation’s history, a World War II veteran from Birmingham named Raymond Weeks had an idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans.
In 1947, Weeks led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to urge then-Army Chief of Staff General Dwight Eisenhower to create a national holiday that honored all veterans. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing November 11th as Veterans Day.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan granted Weeks the Presidential Citizenship Medal, recognizing him as the driving force behind the national holiday and the “Father of Veterans Day.” Weeks led the first National Veterans Day Parade in 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama, and he continued the tradition until his passing in 1985.
In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a close friend and fellow soldier at the Battle of Ypres, Lt. Col. John McCrae was moved by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields. Shortly after he himself performed the burial service, he composed his now-famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.”
In 1918, professor and dedicated volunteer Moina Michael was inspired by McCrae’s poem to wear the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Over time, the symbol was adopted around the world, and we continue to wear it in honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.