Before there was a “Veterans’ Day” there was an Armisitice Day that was always celebrated on November 11th. If you’re under a certain age, you may never have heard the word, “armistice”.
An “armistice” refers to an agreement between parties who are at war to end the fighting, i.e., a truce. An armistice can be temporary (for example, to end the fighting during the holy days) or it can be permanent (as the beginning of peace negotiations). When people now talk about “the armistice” they usually mean the agreement between Germany and the Allies to end World War I on the western front. This agreement was signed at 5 a.m. on the morning of November 11th, 1918, and went into effect 6 hours later at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This had been the Great War, the War to End All Wars, and thus the decision to honor World War I veterans every November 11thafter that.
I’m told that between World War I and World War II many of the great department stores would dim their lights at 11:00 a.m. on November 11th, and that all of the shoppers would stop their shopping and remain wherever they were for a minute of silence in remembrance of those who died in the War. Of course, the Great War didn’t end all wars; in fact, it was the excuse that led Adolf Hitler to begin the second World War. Just a few years after that war ended, Americans were fighting once again, this time in Korea.
In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation that changed the name of the November 11th holiday to “Veterans’ Day” in order to honor all American veterans and not just those who served in World War I. In 1968, the Uniforms Holiday Bill legislation was passed, creating four 3-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans’ Day on specific Mondays. However, many states disagreed with the change and continued to observe Veterans’ Day on November 11th. As a result, in September 1975 President Gerald Ford signed a law which changed the celebration of Veterans’ Day to November 11th.
Tomorrow, November 11th, take a break in your day and spend a little time thinking about all of the men and women who served in our wars. Think of the sacrifices that they made, the hardships they endured, the joy that they shared when they returned home, as well as the joy and sadness that their families experienced. How about setting the alarm on your cell phone to go off exactly at 11 a.m., and stopping everything that you’re doing to have a full minute of silent reflection?