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In the annals of warfare, WWI was truly monumental. It was the first war to be called a world war. It engaged the whole of Europe, parts of Africa, and would eventually draw in our own American troops as well. Young men in great numbers joined their national armies, full of the romantic idea of winning heroic fame on the field of battle. All thought it would be over quickly, but they would meet the beast of war and be overwhelmed by its mindless ferocity, and they would die in numbers never seen before in the history of the world. Both sides believed themselves in the right, and offered up the major portion of their national treasures and the lives of an entire generation of their young men to the gods of war.
Men came away from this carnage scarred not just in body, but in mind. Those men had seen the excesses of modern, industrial warfare for the first time, and for many it was beyond their capacities to comprehend what they had survived. What they knew as "shell shock" would become known as PTSD in our day.
The peace came after four years of terrible slaughter. Nations were simply worn down. The numbers of dead and wounded were beyond belief and, seeing this, men began to speak of it as the "War to end all wars." The Armistice was finally signed at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918.
The holiday has gone under many names; Armistice Day, Poppy Day, Remembrance Day, and Veterans Day.
President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day to be celebrated on November 11, 1919. He declared, "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and the gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
The U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution 7 years later, on June 4, 1926. An Act approved by Congress on May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November each year a legal holiday, "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace..." In 1953, a man by the name of Alvin King in, of all places, Emporia, Kansas, came up with the idea of expanding the holiday to include all veterans from all of our wars, not just those of WWI. As a result of Mr. King's efforts, and those of a Kansas Congressman, who was also from Emporia, a bill was pushed through Congress and was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on May 26, 1954, making the holiday a universal dedication to all veterans. The name of the holiday was also changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day on June 1, 1954.
In 1971, The Uniform Holiday Act moved the holiday to the 4th Monday of October, but thankfully that decision was reversed in 1978 and the holiday, once again, was moved back to the November 11th date every year.
As you can see, this holiday has a long and storied history. Despite the fact that WWI was not the last, or even the worst of the wars of the 20th century, the dream of a world at peace is still real, rich and relevant. Our deepest desire as a nation, and the sincerest hope of any veteran, is that a day will finally come when the nations of the world will find their way to a lasting peace. Until that day comes, we dedicate our respect and honor to all of those men and women who have fought, and those who have died, in service of the country. We remember their sacrifices, and we pray that real peace and true justice will one day be the common cause of all the nations of the world, so that such sacrifices will no longer be necessary.