What is Veterans Day?

Nov. 11, the date American's observe as Veterans Day, commemorates a milestone event in history. It was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, that an armistice effectively ended World War I. The following year, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, urging the country to show gratitude to the veterans who had won the war and restored peace to the world.

On Nov. 11, 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D. C. The day of the dedication ceremony was set aside by Congress as a Federal holiday. During the 1920s and '30s, it became customary for the president to issue an annual proclamation declaring Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. But the day was not a national holiday.

Usually, the states follow the lead of the federal government in establishing holidays. For Armistice Day, it was the reverse. By 1938, Nov. 11 had become a holiday in most of the states, and Congress then passed a law making Armistice Day a federal holiday as well.

In 1953, Al King, a shoe-store proprietor from Emporia, Kansas, began a campaign to expand the Nov. 11 observance to honor all veterans. The following year, President Dwight Eisenhower, who had commanded U. S. troops during World War II, signed legislation changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.

The renamed holiday temporarily lost is historic anchor with the passing of the Monday holiday law in 1968. That law moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It also set Monday dates for Washington's Birthday and Memorial Day, and established Columbus Day as another Monday federal holiday.

There was widespread public opposition to the date-change for Veterans Day, however. All but a handful of states continued to mark the holiday on Nov. 11. In 1978, Congress returned Veterans Day  to its historic calendar date on Nov. 11.

In much of Europe and in some other parts of the world, Nov. 11 is observed as Remembrance Day.