There are some interesting myths surrounding Veterans Day. Let’s have a look.
#1 Veterans Day celebrates the official end of World War I
November 11, formerly Armistice Day, was not the original end to World War I — yes, that “war to end all wars,” as President Woodrow Wilson infamously called it. That would have been seven months later, June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. But the fighting had ceased seven months earlier, as you’ve no doubt heard, on “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” and Germany and her allies (the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, and Austria-Hungary) signed an armistice with the Allies (France, Britain, and Russia mostly, with Italy, Japan and the United States also allied).
#2 Veterans Day has always been November 11
This one was new to me too, and I lived through it! Back in 1968 Congress passed the “Uniform Holiday Act,” dedicated to creating three-day weekends for federal workers. Congress figured people would hop in their cars and take off on a holiday and that would help the economy.
President’s Day falls into this set, though it’s not been made official yet, honoring Washington (born, February 22) and Lincoln (born, February 12) on the third Monday in February. Memorial Day was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May. Labor Day had been on the first Monday in September, (this holiday has the most interesting history, which I’ll save for later in the year). Columbus Day was set for the second Monday in October. And Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October.
But not for long. October 25, 1971 was the first Veterans Day under this new law. But by 1975 is was back to its original November 11 date. The people had spoken. Veterans, disciplined and dedicated, in particular.
#3 Veterans Day is a uniquely American holiday
November 11 is Remembrance Day for the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) and Canada and Armistice Day in France.
Italy, Australia, and New Zealand also have holidays commemorating the end of WWI, more specifically honoring those who died. For Italy it’s November 4, National Unity and Armed Forces Day, the date in 1918 that Austria-Hungary surrendered to them. April 25 is Anzac Day — an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps — the anniversary of the first military action during World War I by Australian and Kiwi forces.
As for Russia’s observance of the war’s end, that is a bit more complicated, what with the Bolshevik Revolution coming as it did in the middle of the war. For more on when and how (and where and why) WWI ended for Russians, check out this post, The war that did not end at 11am on 11 November on the GOV.UK website. Let’s move on to the biggest surprise of all, myth #4:
#4 Where you put the apostrophe is important.
Actually, there is no apostrophe in Veterans Day. There is no possessive necessary simply because it is a day to honor all Veterans, not a certain group of them or any one of them.
In Europe they once celebrated with two minutes of silence at that 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month. Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, whatever you call it, emerged from the pain of a miserable war, a war almost no one wanted, and one we have suffered from in countless ways since.
Four Myths and One Lesson
But there has been one lesson from World War I that seems timely at this point in our US lives. If the winners of that war, the Allies, had behaved better, if they had not felt the need to punish the Axis countries so self-righteously, the ground from which WWII emerged would not have formed.
Fortunately, following WWII, we learned that lesson and the Marshall Plan created a very different world than that which had produced Hitler. I’d like us to remember that, those of us who believe we have “won” this election. What kind of world are we going to help create for our grandchildren and theirs as well?
I want on this Veteran’s Day, to dwell on that lesson of that war and consider what my part will be in building that better world. I hope you’ll join me.