How much thought do you give to veterans of the United States military and the things they have done to keep you safe? On Wednesday, November 11, we celebrate Veterans Day. For many of us, Veterans Day is one of those holidays we take for granted. It is a federal holiday, which means that the Federal Reserve, banks, and post office branches are closed.
When was the last time you thought about what Veterans Day really means? You might go to a local parade or shop a department store sale, but for many people, that is the extent of their celebrations. However, Veterans Day is more than just a day to get a bargain on home goods. It’s a reminder of an important date in history, and of the importance of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.
The United States military is one of the largest in the world, with approximately 1.4 million active personnel and more than half a million people in the Reserves. When they retire or are discharged, they will become veterans.
We enjoy freedoms in the United States that many people do not have in other countries. Those freedoms are the reason that we need to thank our veterans. Here are some things you may not know about this important United States holiday.
- While many people think of Veterans Day as marking the official end of World War I, that’s not actually true. Rather, it marks the date and time of the armistice, or truce, that Germany and the Allies agreed upon at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The official end date of the war was June 28, 1919, and was marked by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
- Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day from 1919 until 1954, at which time the name was officially changed to Veterans Day by then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower, a veteran himself. While its initial purpose was to honor veterans of the First World War, the end of World War II immobilized a new generation of veterans.
The change was made to honor them as well, and that tradition has continued. Today Veterans Day is a day to honor all veterans, including those who fought in more recent conflicts such as the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
- The first Armistice Day was celebrated in 1919, but it was not designated a national holiday until nineteen years later, in 1938.
- We celebrate Veterans Day in the United States, but other countries celebrate on November 11th as well. In some nations the day is still known as Armistice Day, while others call it Remembrance Day.
- The body of an anonymous United States soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921. Today, the site of his burial is called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is an annual tradition for the President of the United States to visit the tomb and lay a wreath upon it in memory of the Unknown Soldier.
- The primary difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is that Memorial Day honors those who died in service to the United States, while Veterans Day honors those who served in the military, whether they did so in times of war or peace.
- The word “veteran” comes from an Old English word that literally meant “old, experienced soldier.” Today, the word is used to describe anybody with a long history in a particular position.
- As the most populous state in the Union, California also has the largest population of military veterans – approximately 2.1 million as of 2014.
- The United States Census Bureau estimates that, as of 2014, there are approximately 21.8 million military veterans living in the United States.
- The VA health care system, which had 54 hospitals in 1930, now consists of 171 medical centers, and more than 350 outpatient and community care centers.
The United States is a country that was born out of war. We fought the American Revolution to rebel against British tyranny, including taxation without representation. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence as a way of making clear the values that would represent the new country they hoped to form – and then codified those values in the Constitution of the United States of America.
The ideals that make up those documents are the things that American soldiers have fought for, over and over again. Fighting on American soil has been rare, but time and again, our young men and women have willingly put themselves in the way of harm to protect our freedoms. We extend the same protection to citizens of other countries when injustice prevails, as it did during World War II.
While it is certainly important to honor our military veterans on Veterans Day, it is even more important to honor them – and take care of them – the other 364 days of the year. Programs like the GI Bill and organizations like the Veterans Administration were set up to ensure that the brave men and women who serve the United States could come back home, get an education, find jobs, and obtain the health care that they need. Many of our veterans end up having to wait for essential services and treatments because the VA system is insufficient to meet their needs.