The Eleventh Hour


Aileen Marshall

There is a federal holiday coming up that you may not be familiar with and probably have only heard about through advertisements. November 11 is Veterans Day, and it is almost 100 years old.  The holiday is meant to honor all those who have served in any branch of the armed forces in this country. It is sometimes confused with Memorial Day, which is meant to specifically honor those who have died while serving. Many towns have a parade for the holiday. Federal employees have the day off, so there is no mail delivered and public schools are closed.

Veterans Day was first known as Armistice Day. It marked the ending of WWI, “the war to end all wars,” according to H. G. Wells. The armistice, or temporary hold on battles, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, although some very minor skirmishes did continue after that time. The official peace treaty to end WWI was signed in Versailles, France on June 28 of the following year. Then, in November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation declaring November 11 as Armistice Day, officially marking the end of WWI. In this document he noted, “We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.”

It wasn’t until June 4, 1926 that the United States Congress officially recognized the end of WWI, through a resolution that called for celebrating the day through… “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations.”  A congressional Act to make Armistice Day an annual legal federal holiday… “dedicated to the cause of world peace,” was passed in May of 1938. Then in 1945, WWII veteran started a campaign to expand the holiday to honor veterans of all American wars. The veteran, Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama, led a delegation to General Dwight Eisenhower. Over the next eight years, various veterans’ service organizations took up the cause. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill changing the name to Veterans Day and designating it a day to honor all veterans.

Congress then passed the Uniform Holidays Bill in June of 1968. This Act rescheduled a number of federal holidays to a nearby Monday, so that workers would have three-day weekends to encourage citizens to celebrate them. Veterans Day was first recognized under this act on October 25, 1971. However, this caused a lot of confusion among people who remember the “eleventh day of the eleventh month” from their school days. In fact, some states still celebrated it on November 11. Starting in 1978, President Gerald Ford changed Veterans Day back to November 11, and it has been celebrated on that date ever since.

Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima march in the 2016 Veterans Day parade in New York City. The ship had recently returned from a humanitarian assistance mission to Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima march in the 2016 Veterans Day parade in New York City. The ship had recently returned from a humanitarian assistance mission to Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Other countries have holidays similar to Veterans Day. In the United Kingdom, they celebrate the second Sunday of November as Remembrance Sunday. In Canada, and other Commonwealth countries, the holiday is also called Remembrance Day, where it is common to observe a moment of silence at 11 a.m. on November 11. France and other allied nations celebrate Armistice Day by honoring their veterans with a national holiday that coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day.

It has become traditional to have a ceremony at 11 a.m. that day to honor unknown soldiers who were killed in battle. For instance, there is the annual laying of the wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. Here in New York, a wreath is laid at the Eternal Light Monument in Madison Square Park at 11 a.m. before the parade.

The parade in New York City is the largest in the country. This year’s parade, on Saturday, November 11, will have over 300 contingents, including veterans from several wars, school and community groups, military units, marching bands, Medal of Honor recipients, and antique vehicles. This year’s Grand Marshal will be Buzz Aldrin, astronaut and Air Force veteran. The parade runs along 5th Avenue, from 26th Street to 52nd Street, starting at 11:15 a.m. There is some limited bleacher seating near the reviewing stand at 41st Street, by the New York Public Library.