There are ten federal holidays in the calendar, as defined by 5 USC 6103, and every November 11th is Veterans Day. This date is significant because it marks the end of fighting on the Western Front of the First World War. Fighting ended at 11AM (the local time in France) on November 11, 1918, sometimes referred to as “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” President Woodrow Wilson informed Congress of the terms of the armistice signed by Germany. As an armistice is simply a cease-fire agreement, the war did not officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.
The carnage of World War I had a major effect on all countries involved, for a time it was referred to as “the war to end all wars.” To honor the veterans who fought, the United States Congress passed a resolution in 1926 recognizing November 11th as Armistice Day. At the time Armistice Day was already a legal holiday in 27 of the 48 states. Armistice Day became a legal federal holiday in 1938 (see the Statutes at Large 52 Stat. 351, for the full text of the act), however, it soon became clear that World War I was not the “war to end all wars.” The Second World War began the next year in 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland.
In 1954, Congress changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day, expanding November 11th from a holiday honoring World War I veterans to a holiday also honoring veterans from World War II and the recently ended Korean War. President Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation (speeches from Presidents and other officials are available from the Department of Veterans Affairs) Today, Veterans Day honors the sacrifices of veterans of all wars, including current and recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. On November 11th, if you happen to see that it is 11AM, spare a thought for the soldiers in the trenches 97 years ago, when the guns of the Western Front fell silent.
For more information on the history of Veterans Day, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website.