On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, Germany and our allies signed the Treaty of Versailles to end a war that was described as the “war to end all wars.” One year later, President Woodrow Wilson issued his Armistice Day proclamation to commemorate the occasion.
Wilson wrote: “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 the nation.”
Wilson’s original intent seems to be the establishment of a day to remember those Americans who died during that conflict. One definition of armistice is a treaty, and Wilson’s words also focused on peace.
America began observing Armistice Day nationally in 1926 when Congress asked President Calvin Coolidge to issue a proclamation. In 1938, Congress passed a bill to make Armistice Day a legal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace.” Those were troubled times and despite the call for peace as Armistice Day reflected, World War II soon followed. When that conflict ended, leaders of veterans’ groups were instrumental in establishing Nov. 11 as Veterans Day. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the observance to Veterans Day to honor all servicemen and women.
Despite the change, Wilson’s words are still appropriate today. Veterans of the United States military have served faithfully to protect us and keep us free. Those veterans have given and still give America the chance to show our sympathy with peace and justice to the world. Every American owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who have served in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines; please honor them not only on Veterans Day but each and every day you are free to take a breath.