Strait On – the history of Veterans Day

Photo courtesy of Alaska Coast Guard
Veterans Day became a national holiday in 1938, and is celebrated each year on Nov. 11.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

Some folks confuse the various holidays that honor the veterans of our many wars, some of which most of us are not even aware of – even on what we call Veterans Day. Perhaps you think Veterans Day originated with the Revolutionary War, or perhaps WWII or even Vietnam. Those are the wars that so quickly come to mind when we honor our veterans.
Some of us take the remembrances more seriously because a member of our family, or a friend, served and was perhaps killed in one of the more recent conflicts. It is so easy to remember recent bloodshed because the red is gone from bloodshed, in defense of our freedom, before we lived.
Every state in the country celebrates its veterans and those who gave all for our liberty. They make speeches and play military music. Girls in short skirts twirl batons while young men who are diminished by the size of their instruments pound on drums and empty their lungs into tubas and trombones. The memory of John Philip Sousa rings loudly in our heads as does that of George M. Cohan – men who wrote and played the music of battle.
We are patriotic on Veterans Day. Yes indeed we are, but what do we know of its history? I’d like to clue you in on some history you may not know.
Like every holiday of importance, it changes form and substance over the years. For instance, honoring the Civil War dead began as Decoration Day. Sometime in the 20th century it morphed into Memorial Day.
Veterans Day, as we know it, began as Armistice Day at the end of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” So much for that prophecy.
It was first celebrated on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the cessation of conflict. President Woodrow Wilson addressed the nation and declared it to be a day of “…solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with 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 nations.”
In 1926, during the administration of President Calvin Coolidge, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance.
On May 13, 1938, under the aegis of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nov. 11 became a national holiday: “A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.”

Photo: Wikipedia
World War I veteran Joseph Ambrose attends the dedication parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, killed in the Korean War.

That would seem to have settled the matter, but no, along comes another president anxious to make an imprint on such an important day. In 1954, following War II and the Korean “conflict,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower placed his stamp of approval on the special day. The president who equaled George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant and John J. (Black Jack) Pershing wanted something for the ages. On Nov. 11, 1954 he signed into law a declaration that henceforth Nov. 11 would be celebrated annually as “Veterans Day to honor all who ever served in our military services,” both dead and surviving. And so it stands today.
The latest statistics regarding living American veterans include all wars from World War I to the year 2014. They are as follows: 11.4 percent African American; 78.9 percent non-Hispanic white; 6.1 percent Hispanic; 9.4 million age 65 and older; 1.7 million age 35 or younger; 4.4 million served in peacetime only August 1990 to August 2001 or later); and 1.6 million are female.
Veterans in the work force
There are about 7.4 million veterans in the civilian labor force (7 million actually employed).
As it turns out, it pays to be a military veteran. Women veterans earned $31,810 in 2014, more than the $21,804 earned by female civilians with no military experience. Comparably, male veterans earned $37,307 in 2014, about $5,000 more than the $32,433 earned by male civilians with no military service. (Source:
Just a little more than 9 percent of non-farm companies in the United States are owned by veterans, and 14,700,000 veterans voted in the 2012 presidential election. That’s 70 percent of all veterans, compared with 60 percent of non-veterans.
In the 2006 congressional election, 11,500,000 veterans voted – that’s 54 percent of all veterans, compared with only 41 percent of civilians with no military service.
Bet you never knew all this information. But it should give cause to reflect what’s been sacrificed so that we can call the politicians – right up to the president – any names we like, and give them the right to tell the rest of us to go to hell. Something to mull over, don’t you think?
I remember in the 1930s as kids, we considered Armistice Day a serious occasion. My father and grandfather had both served in the U.S. Marine Corps, so we understood what it meant to come from a military family. Then after serving in the South Pacific and later the Berlin Airlift, I came to understand from a more personal point of view, having lost friends to the to the Pacific War. It is more a day to be revered than celebrated.
In 2017 the Department of Veteran Affairs reported that only 558,000 out of 16 million World War II veterans are alive. We are dying at a rate of 132,130 a year, or, if you do the math, 362 per day. I suppose at age 93 I might be teetering on the edge, but I don’t buy it. To me the best is still just around the corner. I kinda think I stopped aging at 17. Just sayin’.

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