On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany during World War I. Though the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war, was not signed until June 28, 1919, November 11 remained in the public imagination as the date that marked the end of the Great War.
On the one-year anniversary of the armistice, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The day’s observances included parades and public gatherings, as well as a brief pause in business activities at 11 a.m. On November 11, 1920, unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Exactly a year later, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., in a ceremony officiated by President Warren G. Harding. It wasn’t until June 4, 1926, however, that Congress passed a resolution officially calling for an annual national observation of Armistice Day.
World War II saw the greatest mobilization of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force in the nation’s history (more than 16 million people) and some 5.7 million Americans served in the Korean War. In 1954, in order to include these veterans in the national observance, Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday, striking the word “Armistice” and replacing it with “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954. From then on, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. Today in the United States, an official wreath-laying ceremony is held each Veterans Day at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, while parades and other celebrations are held in states around the country.
Veterans Day is not just celebrated in the United States. Britain, France, Australia and Canada also honor the veterans of World Wars I and II on or near November 11: Canada has Remembrance Day, while Britain has Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday of November). In Europe, Britain and the Commonwealth countries it is common to observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. every November 11.
Honor the extraordinary journeys of the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces with this week’s featured collection Veterans Day. Here’s a look at some of the episodes:
- JFK called their trademark beret “a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.” Explore A Complete History of the Green Berets.
- Only nine men in all history have worn five stars for the United States, and all served during World War II. In America’s 5-Star Heroes, examine how their great weaknesses and strengths of character meshed with genius and guts to win the war.
- At least 1.2 million African Americans served in World War II in some capacity. For the first time ever, in A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day, seven of these largely forgotten heroes tell their stories.
Watch Veterans Day on your HISTORY Vault app available on Roku players, iOS devices and Apple TV (4th Generation). For a related collection, check out WWII: The World in Crisis, WWI: The First Modern War and Korea: The Forgotten War.