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The History of Veterans Day

November 4, 2019

By Edward Maguire

It is difficult for me to comprehend the immensity of this year – the 100th anniversary of the creation of Veterans Day. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson penned out the framework of what was then called Armistice Day. This would later be reclassified by our nation’s Congress as Veterans Day. Our nation was healing from the wounds received in the Great War (what we have come to know as World War I).

At that time, Woodrow Wilson stated, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of 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 the nations.”

Back here in Oklahoma, this was something new and without precedence. The Nov. 26, 1919, issue of the Wewoka Democrat reported there was a rally by the veterans of Seminole County. That rally stemmed from the notion that the veterans would collectively voice their support of the day by not working past noon on Nov. 11.

Those veterans marked that day with an Army-Navy football game held in the city of Wewoka. That publication goes on to discuss how our leaders traveled the state to garner support for this day. U.S. House Rep. Scott Farris (5th Congressional District of Oklahoma) barnstormed and partially ran for the U.S. Senate
on that platform.

The day would come and go from that point forward. It continued in this manner until 1926 when our nation’s Congress voted to resolve that this day be memorialized by each president, by calling for the observance of Nov. 11 “with appropriate ceremonies and annual proclamations.”

It would remain in this state of “pomp” and “circumstance” until May 13, 1938, when Congress enacted a resolution that each Nov. 11 will be observed as a national holiday and will “thereinafter be known as ARMISTICE DAY.”

Almost a decade later, and after another war to end all wars, Rev. Raymond Weeks would take up the banner and the cause for all veterans. Rev. Weeks lobbied Congress and the president(s) to make Armistice Day a day for all those who have fought and sacrificed for our nation. Weeks believed that this was the best way to honor and support those who served in all times of conflict.

His requests for support of our nation’s heroes paid off!

Eight years of devotion to our heroes had passed before Congress finally changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, President Eisenhower would codify the vision of Rev. Weeks.1 Weeks would later be aptly named by Elizabeth Dole, leader and life-long supporter of veterans, as the “father” of Veterans Day. On Nov. 11, 1982, President Reagan awarded Rev. Weeks with the Presidential Citizen Medal to honor Weeks’ self-sacrificing service to our nation’s service members.

President Reagan concluded that ceremony by proclaiming, “So let us go forth from here, having learned the lessons of history, confident in the strength of our system, and anxious to pursue every avenue toward peace. And on this Veterans Day, we will remember and be firm in our commitment to peace, and those who died in defense of our freedom will not have died in vain.”2

The common thread of this day is support. It is continued support. As a nation and a state, we have ebbed and flowed our patriotism to suit our times. In times of peace and prosperity our notion of commitment becomes strained. This doesn’t mean we do not support the veteran or this day. It just means that we have sometimes forgotten what this day is about.

The day is not a day for the veteran. It is a day for our nation to honor the veteran. This may seem a semantical distinction, but it is more important than that.3 This day is our chance as a nation and as a state to say “Thank you” and thereby lift-up the veteran. This is the day that we raise our voices of gratitude and collectively offer our support of the veteran. Now, we ask for others to support the veteran as Raymond Weeks did so many years ago.

Mr. Maguire is the OBA Heroes Program coordinator. You can reach him at 405-416-7086 or email him at heroes@okbar.org.

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