by Beverly Hernandez Updated October 31, 2017
People sometimes confuse the meanings of Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day, often called Decoration Day, is observed the last Monday in May as a remembrance of those who died in military service of the United States. Veterans Day is observed on November 11 in honor of military veterans.
The History of Veterans Day
In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed. The “war to end all wars,” World War I, was over.
November 11, 1919 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States. It was a day to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during World War I in order to ensure a lasting peace. On Armistice Day, soldiers who survived the war marched in a parade through their home towns. Politicians and veteran officers gave speeches and held ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won.
Congress voted Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938, twenty years after the war ended. But Americans soon realized that the previous war would not be the last one. World War II began the following year and nations great and small again participated in a bloody struggle. For awhile after the Second World War, November 11 continued by be observed as Armistice Day.
Then, in 1953, the townspeople in Emporia, Kansas began calling the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to both the World War I and World War II veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill introduced by Kansas congressman, Edward Rees renaming the federal holiday Veterans Day. In 1971, President Nixon declared it a federal holiday to be observed on the second Monday in November.
Americans still give thanks for peace on Veterans Day. There are ceremonies and speeches. At 11:00 in the morning, most Americans observe a moment of silence, remembering those who fought for peace.
After the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, the emphasis on holiday activities has shifted.
There are fewer military parades and ceremonies. Veterans gather at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They place gifts at the names of their friends and relatives who fell in the Vietnam War. Families who have lost sons and daughters in wars turn their thoughts more toward peace and the avoidance of future wars.
Veterans of military service have organized support groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable activities by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans. This bright red wildflower became a symbol of World War I after a bloody battle in a field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.
Ways to Honor Veterans on Veterans Day
It is important that we continue to share the significance of Veterans Day with younger generations. Try these ideas with your kids to help them understand why it’s important to honor our nation’s veterans.
Teach your children history of the holiday. Passing on the history of Veterans Day and ensuring that our children understand and remember the sacrifices that servicemen and women have made for our country is a meaningful way to honor our veterans. Read books, watch documentaries, complete Veterans Day Printables, and discuss Veterans Day with your children.
Visit veterans. Make cards and write thank-you notes to deliver to veterans at the VA hospital or nursing home. Visit with them. Thank them for their service and listen to their stories if they’d like to share them.
Display the American flag. The American flag should be displayed at half-mast for Veterans Day. Take time on Veterans Day to teach your children this and other American flag etiquette.
Watch a parade. If your city still holds a Veterans Day parade, you can honor veterans by taking your kids to see it. Being there clapping on the sidelines demonstrates to the men and women in the parade that we still remember and recognize their sacrifices.
Serve a veteran. Take time on Veterans Day to serve a vet. Rake leaves, mow his or her lawn, or deliver a meal or dessert. Veterans Day is much more than simply a day when the banks and post offices are closed. Take some time to honor the men and women who have served our country and teach the next generation to do the same.