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A look at Veterans Day

Veterans Day initially started as Armistice Day in 1938 to honor World War I veterans. The date, Nov. 11, is significant because it’s the day Germany agreed to cease fighting. German leadership signed the armistice at 5 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, with Allied leaders. The armistice took effect at 11 a.m. that same day.

The Great War, as it was known at the time, came to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Armistice Day remained a tribute to World War I veterans, but that war was followed by two other significant conflicts: World War II and the Korean War. 

In 1954, veterans groups urged the U.S. government to expand Armistice Day to include veterans of the two subsequent wars. The 83rd U.S. Congress amended the Act of 1938 that established Armistice Day by replacing the word Armistice with Veterans.   

It has also become a day to recognize everyone who served in the U.S. military, whether during war or peace.

The day has endured a few bumps since it was established 67 years ago. 

On June 28, 1968, the 90th U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which set four holidays — Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day — on Mondays to establish three-day weekends for workers. 

Under this legislation, Veterans Day moved from Nov. 11 to the fourth Monday of October, which went into effect in 1971. Many states didn’t follow the federal government’s plan for Veterans Day, however, and chose to recognize it on Nov. 11, whichever day it fell on the calendar.

Veterans groups also pushed back on the three-day weekend plan because of the significance of Nov. 11. They argued that Veterans Day was not established to give federal employees a three-day weekend but to honor the men and women who served the country. 

In 1975, President Gerald Ford rectified the situation by signing a law returning Veterans Day observance nationwide to Nov. 11. It has remained that way since 1978.

VETERAN VITALS

According to the 2020 U.S. Census report, about 18 million Americans qualify as veterans. That represents 7 percent of the adult population. Here are a few fast facts about U.S. veterans compiled as part of that report, which includes men and women ages 18 to 100 years old.

  • The number of veterans declined by a third between 2000 and 2018.
  • Fewer than 500,000 World War II veterans are alive today, down from 5.7 million in 2000.
  • Nine percent of veterans, or 1.7 million, are women.
  • The percentage of women veterans is expected to increase to 17 percent by 2040.
  • The largest cohort of veterans alive today served in the Vietnam era (6.4 million).
  • The median age of veterans today is 65 years. 

OTHER MILITARY HOLIDAYS

Veterans Day, which is usually observed at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, is set aside to recognize the men and women who served in the military on behalf of the United States. 

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May. It was set aside specifically to honor those who died while serving their country or succumbed to injuries they sustained while in uniform, particularly those who did so in battle. 

Yet another military day of honor, Armed Forces Day recognizes the current men and women in uniform as well as the military branches. First celebrated in 1950, Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May.