A Short Write-up on Veterans Day

  • Published
  • By Mr. Walt Napier III
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

Each year the United States celebrates Veterans Day on November 11th.  In the United States the day has come to stand for remembering and celebrating all members of the military, past and present, who willingly put their lives at risk to defend the country.  The holiday is not only an American one however.  The day is actually an international holiday held in many different nations.  In France and Belgium the day is known as “Remembrance Day,” and in the United Kingdom and Canada as “Armistice Day.”  How did this holiday come into being?

               The day was originally designed to celebrate the end of The Great War or World War I (1914-1918).  World War I was the largest and most calamitous war that had ever occurred when cease fire was called in 1918.  The war began over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  When the Austria-Hungarian Empire began to mobilize in response to the assassination it started a domino effect that led Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Japan, The United States and many other countries into a global battlefield. 

By 1918, the catastrophe reached such a scale, that a firm number of deaths is still changing and uncertain.  The number of combat deaths typically fall in the 8-9 million range, with some reaching much higher.  Tens of millions more were wounded and forever scarred.  So many artillery shells were dropped, that if a tourists visits the battlefields of Verdun, the Somme or countless other battlefields craters are still in the ground.  There are parts of the Western Front that are still closed off to the public because too much unexploded ordinance exists there.

On November 11, at 1100 hours, the guns finally fell silent after four years of relentless struggle.  For the allies there were parades and excitement.  By 1919, President Woodrow Wilson was already giving speeches of remembrance on the one year anniversary.  The destruction caused by the new industrialized level of warfare meant that many soldiers may not have enough remains to be identified.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington was consecrated on November 11, 1921, in order to honor these heroes.  By 1926, congress passed a resolution for annual addresses to be made remembering the sacrifices of the war.  On May 13, 1938, Armistice Day was made a federal holiday to be celebrated every November 11th.

For the Central Powers, however, there was no cause for celebration.  They too had sacrificed, but they did not claim victory.  Germany especially, had issues with the defeat, and many Germans felt the Treaty of Versailles (1919) treated the nation too harshly.  The backlash against Germany’s treatment became a cornerstone of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.  Himself a veteran of the Western Front, he would use this platform to be appointed chancellor and transform Germany with his National Socialist German Workers’ Party.  In 1939, his new Nazi army invaded Poland.  The Nazi invasion caused a second great European War only twenty-one years after World War I had ended.

On the other side of the globe, Japan had been among the countries to fight alongside the Allies during World War I.  At the peace table, however, the Japanese government felt they were not given a reasonable seat at the table.  Frustrated with their treatment by the western world, the Japanese took matters into their own hands and began expanding their empire in the Pacific realm.  The primary target for the Japanese was mainland China, with the first Japanese incursion into China taking place in 1931.  By 1937, a large scale invasion and open warfare with China was underway.  Recognizing that the Americans would continue to place economic sanctions on their Pacific actions, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, in hopes of destroying the American’s Pacific capabilities. 

World War I had been labeled as “The War to End All Wars.” World War II proved that war would continue.  Even worse, World War II proved to be an even larger and more destructive conflict than the first war.  Because of this, a World War II veteran named Raymond Weeks began celebrating November 11 not as a day to remember service in one war, but as a day to celebrate all service.  World War II had proven that no war would ever end all wars.  So instead of celebrating a new holiday for every future war, why not an all-encompassing holiday that would ensure no veteran would be forgotten.  The idea was eventually adopted, and on June 1, 1954 Armistice Day was officially changed to Veterans Day.