History of Veterans Day

Julianna Poe, Trending Editor

The history of Veterans Day all started with an unidentified American soldier who lost his life in World War I.

On Nov. 11, 1921, the soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, located upon a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. and Potomac River. According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, the site became a place of recognition — or the “highest place of honor” — for American veterans. 

On the same day, both England and France hosted an event for an unknown, fallen soldier. Each of these ceremonies were held “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” in honor of the end of World War I just three years prior.

The day officially became known in America as Armistice Day five years later and was a national holiday by 1938. According to history.com, Armistice Day received its name from the Armistice, or agreement, that was signed between the Allies and Germany to end World War I. After the end of World War II, Armistice Day began to evolve into Veterans Day.

Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, first utilized the term “Veterans Day” for a parade he organized to honor veterans in Birmingham, Alabama in 1947. The event, now celebrated nationwide, was held on what was then recognized as Armistice Day. Seven years later, Congress passed a bill — proposed by former U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas — signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which declared Veterans Day the new name for Armistice Day.

In 1968, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Bill, which switched several federal holidays to a Monday, with the hope to spur the economy by encouraging travel for long weekend holidays. The bill changed the date of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday of October. Instead of benefiting the economy, the date change confused Americans and was later switched back after four years.

The unknown World War I soldier was joined by two more unidentified soldiers, one from World War II and one from the Korean War, in 1958 on Memorial Day. In 1984, an unidentified serviceman from the Vietnam War was buried alongside the other men and was later identified and removed. 

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, these unknown soldiers continue to symbolize and honor all Americans who have served their country “in war or in peace.” Today, the “Tomb of Unknowns” is the national location for honoring fallen American soldiers on Veterans Day.