World War I, known at the time as the “Great War” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. Fighting had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, a temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of the war.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades, public meetings, and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m..
An act approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday, a day dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day. Armistice Day was a day primarily set aside to honor veterans of World War 1, but in 1964, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the world “Armistice’ and replacing it with the world “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation, on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. The focus of Veterans Day is to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
The Uniform Holiday Bill , Public Law 90-363, was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day on Mondays. The government was of the opinion that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision in regards to Veterans Day and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date.
On September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which resumed the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. The action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.
There have been several members of our family who have served or are serving in the military. Some served two years, some four, one ten years, one is in basic training right now, and one is still serving. I know for sure that one served during World War II, two of them served in Fallujah at the height of the Iraqi War, and one served in Afghanistan. Unlike a lot of families, we were lucky and all those who served in wars came home. But they did not come home unscathed. Some have coped better than others but what they all saw and experienced cannot be unseen nor forgotten.
Fort Knox, as most military bases, conducts ceremonies and observances for Veterans Day. Fort Knox personnel also participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave site of President Zachary Taylor in Louisville every year. Numerous veterans, units, divisions, organizations and associations are honored and celebrated not only on Veterans Day but also throughout the year at Fort Knox.
At the last organization I worked for at Fort Knox, the 83rd U.S. Army Readiness Reserve Training Center, we conducted a ceremony in August 2017 for the veterans of the 83rd Infantry “Thunderbolt” Division Association and their family members. The 83rd Infantry Division was activated in the fall of 1917 and was active in World War 1 and World War II. In 1944, during World War II, the division took part in the Allied Invasion of Normandy, landing at Omaha Beach and also participated in several other campaigns including the Battle of the Bulge. I don’t remember every detail about the ceremony but I certainly remember the twenty-five or so elderly veterans who took their places on the stage. Some walked by themselves, some walked with the assistance of other people, some walked with canes, and some were pushed in wheelchairs but all of them displayed an air of dignity which shows the resilience of our veterans. I can certainly remember seeing their faces lit up with pride throughout the ceremony as the history of their division and their battles were shown on video and narrated by a member of our organization. I can certainly remember seeing the tears of pride and respect in the eyes of their family members in the front rows along with those of the audience.
It is for these reasons that we, the American people, should not forget about our veterans and extend to them the courtesy and respect they deserve, not only on Veteran’s Day, but on every day.