Indigo Insights

Monday, November 10, 2003

November 11, is the anniversary of the Armistice which was signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, ending World War I, after four years of conflict.

At 5 A.M. on Monday, November 11, 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice, an order was issued for all firing to cease; so the hostilities of the First World War ended. This day began with the laying down of arms, blowing of whistles, impromptu parades, closing of places of business. All over the globe there were many demonstrations; no doubt the world has never before witnessed such rejoicing.

In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued his Armistice Day proclamation. The last paragraph set the tone for future observances:
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 nation.

In 1927 Congress issued a resolution requesting President Calvin Coolidge to issue a proclamation calling upon officials to display the Flag of the United States on all government buildings on November 11, and inviting the people to observe the day in schools and churches...But it was not until 1938 that Congress passed a bill that each November 11 "shall be dedicated to the cause of world peace and ...hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day."

That same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill making the day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia. For sixteen years the United States formally observed Armistice Day, with impressive ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the Chief Executive or his representative placed a wreath. In many other communities, the American Legion was in charge of the observance, which included parades and religious services. At 11 A.M. all traffic stopped, in tribute to the dead, then volleys were fired and taps sounded.

After World War II, there were many new veterans who had little or no association with World War I. The word, "armistice," means simply a truce; therefore as years passed, the significance of the name of this holiday changed. Leaders of Veterans' groups decided to try to correct this and make November 11 the time to honor all who had fought in various American wars, not just in World War I.

In Emporia, Kansas, on November 11, 1953, instead of an Armistice Day program, there was a Veterans' Day observance. Ed Rees, of Emporia, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans' Day. After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday. The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954. In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through rededication to the task of promoting an enduring peace. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.

Excerpts from All About American Holidays by Mayme R. Krythe.

Meaning of Armistice (Veterans) Day lost
By George McEvoy, Palm Beach Post Columnist
Saturday, November 8, 2003

Tuesday is Veterans Day, and here I am wishing again that it still was called Armistice Day.

Sure, part of my reason is nostalgia. It was called Armistice Day all the time I was growing up. My father revered Armistice Day, for it marked the conclusion of a terrible war in which he fought bravely, was wounded and gassed.

But there is another reason. Every time we change our longtime holidays, we tend to give the new day a title that's all but meaningless.

Once, we celebrated George Washington's Birthday and Abraham Lincoln's Birthday as separate holidays honoring our two greatest presidents. We morphed the two days into one and called it Presidents Day. Huh? Which presidents? Are we honoring Warren Harding and "Tricky Dick" Nixon along with Washington and Lincoln?

The reason for changing Armistice Day was simply that we had been engaged in more wars since 1918, and the veterans of those conflicts, too, wanted to be noted. As a veteran of World War II, I concur. But I wish we somehow could have kept the original name in there.

The thing is, Armistice Day meant something very specific and important. The very name pointed up the fact that the world wasn't paying attention in the heady atmosphere of 1918. If we had paid closer heed to the word used -- armistice -- we might have seen what was coming. (Read the entire article here.)