Veterans Day evolved in the years following World War I, or “The Great War,” as it was known at the time. The Great War, a war to end all wars, ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918 when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of ‘the war to end all wars’. That conflict officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, at the Palace of Versailles, France, when all warring powers executed a formal declaration of peace. The major players on the stage of history at this time were known as The Big Three: President Woodrow Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain and President Georges Clemenceau of France.
In November 1919, Pres. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday by an act of Congress.
Nov. 11 continued to be observed as Armistice Day until 1954 when, at the urging of the veterans’ organizations, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an act of Congress on June 1, 1954 formally changing the word “Armistice” to “Veterans” in order to expand the significance of that (Armistice Day) celebration and in order that a grateful nation might pay appropriate homage to those who served in all wars engaged in by our nation.
In 1968, Congress moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in November, but returned it to its traditional date in 1978 after heavy lobbying by veterans groups and concerned citizens who believed that moving the observance to create a three-day holiday only served to take the focus off the historical significance of the day.
Pfc. Henry Gunther will be remembered as the last soldier to die on Nov. 11, 1918 with one minute remaining before the armistice would end all conflict. This otherwise unknown man would charge a German machine gun encampment disregarding their attempts to wave him back, knowing that in a matter of seconds they could all leave their trenches and once again enjoy peace. Gunther fell after a short blast of fire joining the 116,000 of his fellow American comrades that died in that war.
Earlier in 2010, the last surviving U.S. World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, age 109, died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In December 2009, he appeared before Congress to plead for the approval of a memorial to honor those American soldiers who died in the Great War. He had enlisted at the age of 16, but his service to his country did not end there. He also served in World War II and was captured by the Japanese, enduring the infamous Bataan Death March. He survived three years in a Japanese prison camp, weighing only 85 pounds when he was finally liberated.
On Monday, Nov. 11, our country honors all veterans and active duty soldiers on Veteran’s Day. We remember Henry Gunther and Frank Buckles and all those who laid down their lives in the defense of freedom and pray that our brave men and women, now serving in our armed services, return to us and lead long, safe and productive lives.
For my part, I have dedicated my book “BAHALA NA (Come What May)” to the soldiers who defend the Philippines during WWII.
Copyright © 2013. By Rosalinda Morgan, author “BAHALA NA (Come What May)”.
All rights reserved. VETERANS DAY – A DAY WE HONOR OUR ARMED SERVICES.
If you missed the free promotion of my book on Oct. 20, 2013, you can still borrow “BAHALA NA (Come What May)” at Kindle Lending Library anytime.