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So, why do we observe Veterans Day anyway? What is the purpose?
For many years, the Douglas County American Legion and Ava Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have sponsored and conducted a Veterans Day Ceremony at the Ava Cemetery. It is always held at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11. Why?
Following is a brief history of Veterans Day that will hopefully shed some new light on the holiday and why it is significant in American history.
A Brief History of Veterans Day
Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on Nov. 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, Nov. 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’” As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans.
In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting 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.
In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill ensured three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the last Monday of October. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971.
Finally on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on Nov. 11.
In 1953, an Emporia, Kan. shoe store owner named Alfred King had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who served in World War I. King had been actively involved with the American War Dads during World War II. He began a campaign to turn Armistice Day into “All” Veterans Day.
The Emporia Chamber of Commerce took up the cause after determining that 90 percent of Emporia merchants as well as the Board of Education supported closing their doors on Nov. 11 to honor veterans. With the help of then-U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, a bill for the holiday was pushed through Congress. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954.
So, then, what is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?
Memorial Day honors servicemembers who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle. Deceased veterans are also remembered on Veterans Day but the day is set aside to thank and honor living veterans who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime.