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, Alabama 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 Citizens 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.
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A Raymond Weeks Memorial Monument was dedicated on Veterans Day, November 11, 1989. The monument is located in Linn Park in Downtown Birmingham, Alabama. It is across the street from Boutwell Auditorium which hosted the National Veterans Awards Dinner in the early years.
A plaque was added on November 11, 2007 for the 60th anniversary of Veterans Day. It was sponsored by Patriotism in Action, National Veterans Day, and the Blue Star Salute Foundation.