Each year, Veterans Day honors the bravery and sacrifice of American veterans, past and present. For many years, the occasion was celebrated as Armistice Day. Although World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, fighting ceased much earlier with an armistice on November 11, 1918. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. The occasion marked a “…solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory…” as well as a dedication to world peace after the “war to end all wars.” Congress officially recognized Armistice Day as a national holiday in 1926 and it became a legal holiday in 1938.
In 1954, upon the urging of Raymond Weeks, a World War II Navy veteran, and Representative Ed Rees, Congress and President Eisenhower dedicated the day to all U.S. veterans in addition to World War I veterans. At this time, Armistice Day was also re-titled Veterans Day to better reflect its new purpose. Armistice Day is still a national holiday in many other countries. Although both Memorial Day and Veterans Day honor the U.S. military, Veterans Day differs from Memorial Day in that it honors all veterans without specifically focusing upon those who died in service.
The celebration of Veterans Day has not changed much since its inception. Today, there are still parades in honor of our military and ceremonies take place at Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam War Memorial. The Veterans Day National Ceremony annually honors our veterans with a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the playing of “Taps,” and a color guard parade of flags.
However it is celebrated across the country, the base sentiment remains the same: citizens wish to remember and thank our veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our nation. On the occasion of Veterans Day, JMC has gathered together fellows’ publications and online resources on the American military heritage, government policies for soldiers, as well as first-hand accounts of military life from veterans themselves.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing the American military and its history. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
From George Washington’s Farewell Address to the Armies of the United States, November 2, 1783:
.“…To the various branches of the Army the General takes this last and solemn opportunity of professing his inviolable attachment and friendship. He wishes more than bare professions were in his power, that he were really able to be useful to them all in future life. He flatters himself however, they will do him the justice to believe, that whatever could with propriety be attempted by him has been done, and being now to conclude these his last public Orders, to take his ultimate leave in a short time of the military character, and to bid a final adieu to the Armies he has so long had the honor to Command, he can only again offer in their behalf his recommendations to their grateful country, and his prayers to the God of Armies. May ample justice be done them here, and may the choicest of heaven’s favours, both here and hereafter, attend those who, under the devine auspices, have secured innumerable blessings for others; with these wishes, and this benediction, the Commander in Chief is about to retire from Service. The Curtain of seperation will soon be drawn, and the military scene to him will be closed for ever…”
Selected online resources on the American military:
The What So Proudly We Hail online curriculum offers an ebook,“The Meaning of Veterans Day,” that considers the experience of war, and asks how we should properly honor veterans, their deeds, and their service. Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion.
Each November 11, our nation commemorates Veterans Day. But what does the holiday mean, and how do we properly observe it? In this ebook, we examine the evolving meaning of Veterans Day, with selections by American authors such as Ambrose Bierce, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Stephen Crane, among others, and speeches by Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Douglas MacArthur, and Ronald Reagan, to name just a few.
The Library of Congress Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center “collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.” Visitors to the site may search the military collections and actively participate by interviewing a veteran or contributing documents.
The National Archives provides a vast array of resources for Veterans Day, including, among others, military records, images, videos, and online exhibits.
Did you know that of our 44 presidents, 26 of them served in the U.S. military? Paige Weaver of the History Office has written an article for the National Archives blog on our presidents, from the founders to their contemporaries, who have served our country in the military capacity.
The National Archives keeps a special collection of military records for historically significant individuals, known as Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) records. These consist of “military heroes, political leaders, cultural figures, celebrities, and entertainers” which are now available to the public. Several of these files are available in a digital format online, including the records of Paul Newman, Elvis Presley, and Jimmy Stewart. The National Museum of the United States Air Force also has an online exhibit featuring famous Air Force veterans such as Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan.
*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on Veterans Day, the American military, or the philosophy of war, and would like your work included here, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.