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. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or 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, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with 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 the nations…”
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926.
An Act approved May 13, 1938, made Nov. 11 in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays, but President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.
Veterans Day continues to be observed on Nov. 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.