Significance of Nov. 11

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 11, 2004

It’s Veterans Day, and it’s a day of honoring those men and women who so diligently fought to preserve our country’s freedom.

With war raging in Fallujah and military authorities laying out expectations compared to that of Vietnam, it’s even more important that we keep this holiday alive.

So what exactly is the origin of Veteran’s Day?

We celebrate Veteran’s Day on the eleventh of November each year. This date, not a particular day, is significant because of a specific occurrence that unfolded at the end of a major war. Do you know which war and what the significance was?

A lot of people think Veteran’s Day took place at the end of the Civil War (also known as the War Between the States), but it would be another 89 years before Veteran’s Day was celebrated officially as a so called holiday.

And even then, it didn’t have anything to do with the Civil War.

Veteran’s Day, as an official holiday, was created in 1954 to honor all military veterans, even those from the Civil War and prior wars.

But before it was Veteran’s Day, as we know it today, it took on some shaping over an event that occurred in 1921, based on that significant occurrence mentioned above that took place in 1918.

OK, before this gets too confusing, let’s first start with the latter date of 1921.

It was during this year that an unknown World War I soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

This site, which overlooked the Potomac River and the city of the nation’s capital, quickly became a focal point for American veterans – hence called the &uot;tomb of the Unknown Solider.&uot;

European countries were also holding very similar ceremonies in the nation’s highest places of honor and they were being held on Nov. 11.

The reason for the specific date of Nov. 11 is that this date marked the end of World War I – which at the time was referred to the &uot;war to end all wars.&uot;

World War I didn’t just end on Nov. 11. The full historical significance is that World War I ended at 11 a.m., on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The ceremonial hanging of a wreath on the tomb on the Unknown Soldier began in 1921 and continues to this day.

In 1926, based on this ceremony, Congress passed a resolution to recognize this day as Armistice Day. Now if you look up the word armistice, you’ll find that it means – simply put – a truce. The name and the ceremony worked well together based on the presumption that World War I was in fact the &uot;war to end all wars.&uot;

In 1938, Congress again passed a proclamation to observe Nov. 11 as a national holiday, calling it Armistice Day.

We might still be celebrating that holiday today if it hadn’t been for war breaking out only a couple of years later in Europe; A war that would escalate into World War II, involving over 16 and a half million Americans, and seeing nearly a half million die in service and in battle.

This country continued to celebrate Armistice Day through the 1940s and into the 1950s. And during he end of the Korean War, it was duly recognized that peace and freedom were equally preserved during World War II and in Korea as it was during World War II, and a change was a coming for the holiday.

And it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who signed a bill in 1954 to proclaim Nov. 11 as Veteran’s Day, changing the name to what we now continue to call this holiday even today.

At 11 a.m. today, all across the nation, ceremonies will be held in municipalities large and small as wreaths are placed in the county or town’s most honored area – usually a town square, a courthouse lawn or other significant location that stands out from others.

It is also at 11 a.m., precisely, today that the president of the United States will place a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

That tomb, by the way, has grown from one to now honoring an unknown soldier from World War II, the Korean War and – in 1984 – a soldier from the Vietnam Conflict (War) was also laid to rest beside the others.

As a way of paying tribute to the honor of the men and women who served this nation in all branches of the military in all wars, this tomb is under guarded watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But this isn’t the end of the changes for Veteran’s Day. Once upon a time in the 1960s, it was thought the holiday would have more significance (meaning) to the country if it were used to stretch out a weekend.

Therefore, in 1968 a law was passed to observe this national holiday on the fourth Monday in October. This would be short-lived due to much controversy and in 1973, Congress passed another resolution that would change this law back to observing the holiday on Nov. 11 based on the historic significance of the past.

Today, the date of Nov. 11 is still observed as a national holiday and banks and post offices across the state are closed. Schools also observe the holiday and many businesses have been known to close for the day in recognition of our military men and women.

So, now that you have a brief knowledge of how this holiday got its start, you can take a few minutes to reflect on your freedom – our freedom; and to thank a veteran for his or her sacrifices so that you have that freedom we normally take for granted.

But that brings us back to the need to preserve and honor this holiday. When you read the headlines or turn on your television over the next few months, Fullajah is going to become as common on the tongue as Vietnam, Korea, Germany…

The men and women now fighting this battle will too come home and will too one day be veterans. Salute a veteran today, it just might make you feel better about yourself, not to mention what it will do for them.