What is Veterans Day and why do we celebrate it? Origin and meaning

Every year 11 November is a national holiday in the United States to pay thanks to the millions of men and women who have served the nation during times of war.

What is Veterans Day and why do we celebrate it? Origin and meaning
Drew Angerer AFP

Veterans Day is marked on 11 November every year in the United States and acts as an opportunity to pay thanks for the servicemen and woman who were involved in all wars in American history.

In a White House proclamation released on Tuesday, President Biden took a moment to thank those who have served and described the need to prepare and care for veterans and their families as the nation’s “only one truly sacred obligation.”

He said: “These patriots represent the best of us. On Veterans Day, we honor their service, dedication, and valor and are forever grateful for their sacrifice.”

The holiday is a national institution, but over the years the day has changed its name and even shifted date. So what are the origins of the sacred day, and why has it been altered in the past?

What is the history of Veterans Day?

The origin of Veterans Day is in the armistice agreement that finally brought World War I to an end. It was on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918 that the horrific war ended and that date was initially named Armistice Day to commemorate that fact.

However in 1954 the holiday’s name was changed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to reflect the tragic fact that it would now be marking the service of Americans during two world wars. It was at this point that the 11 November was first christened Veterans Day.

14 years later, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill which was moved various federal holidays to Mondays, to ensure that workers received a guaranteed number of long weekends every year. Under these new rules Veterans Day was briefly moved to the fourth Monday of October, but in 1975 it was changed back to the original date.

President Gerald Ford argued that the historical importance of the date, 11 November, was of greater significance. Now the holiday is used to pay respect to those who served during any war for the United States.

According to a 2020 report from the US Census Bureau, veterans who served during the Vietnam War are now the largest group, totalling roughly 6.4 million. By 2020 there were fewer than 500,000 World War II veterans still alive in the United States.