Mostly penned by France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Treaty included the end of hostilities, required German troops to return home, arranged an exchange of war prisoners, promised of cash payments by Germany to the western powers and stipulated the destruction of German warships and submarines.

Armistice Day

However, it was the Armistice, the temporary cease-fire, that came to be celebrated worldwide. The first Armistice Day commemoration was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a "Banquet in Honor of the President of the French Republic" during the evening hours of November 10, 1919.

In Washington, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as America’s first commemoration of Armistice Day. The day’s observation included parades and public gatherings, as well as a brief pause in business activities at 11 a.m.

Two years later on November 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C. in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On the same day, unidentified soldiers were also laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

On November 11, 1934, the Shrine of Remembrance was dedicated in Melbourne, Australia. In 2004, New Zealand established Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the National War Memorial in Wellington.

A False Hope

On June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations” and that the president should issue an annual proclamation calling for the annual observance.

By that time, 27 state legislatures had made November 11 a legal holiday. In1938, Armistice Day became a legal Federal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace” across the globe.

That hope was dashed with World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Cold War.

Veterans Day Instead

World War II – from 1941-1945 for the United States – resulted in the greatest mobilization of armed forces in America’s history with more than 16 million in uniform. Then in the 1950-53 Korean War, 5.7 million more served.

In 1954, Congress decided to honor those veterans and amended the 1938 Armistice Day Act, striking the word “Armistice” in favor of “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1.

From then on, November 11 became a national holiday to honor American veterans of all wars. In 1968, Congress attempted to create four nationwide three-day weekends for Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day. Attempts to include the Fourth of July failed – Independence Day continues to be celebrated on July 4 each year.

Only Briefly a Three-Day Holiday

The first Veterans Day under the new law was Monday, October 25, 1971. However, consternation prevailed. Many states openly rejected the change, citing the tradition worldwide of observing the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

In 1975, after four years of confusion, President Gerald R. Ford signed a new law returning the observation of Veterans Day to November 11, beginning in 1978.

It remains an official federal holiday. However in the years that followed, many businesses began limiting the number of holidays to be observed, giving employees a choice between Veterans Day, Columbus Day, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Good Friday and in some areas, St. Patrick’s Day.

The Forgotten Holiday

Nationwide, Veterans Day seems to have suffered the most – with employees often preferring to take the Friday after Thanksgiving as their November holiday – giving their families a four-day weekend. Further, Memorial Day has taken precedence as the national day to remember those who gave their lives for their country.

As a result, Veterans Day has increasingly been observed only by federal employees, post offices and banks.

That has been cause for alarm among such groups as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion – which have continued to observe the day with ceremonies, laying of wreaths at memorials and parades. On November 11, 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan accepted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a gift to the nation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

On Veterans Day, 1996, the fund unveiled "The Wall That Heals." The work was a half-scale replica of the Vietnam memorial that toured communities throughout the United States for several years.

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