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The History of Veterans Day and Our Veterans

Published on
November 2, 2022 at 8:00:00 AM PDT November 2, 2022 at 8:00:00 AM PDTnd, November 2, 2022 at 8:00:00 AM PDT

What is Veterans Day?

Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans every November 11. The day, originally known as Armistice Day, was first observed in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to observe the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s approval, after U.S. veteran organizations requested the name change. 

The Full History of Veterans Day

An unidentified American soldier from World War I was interred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1921. This location—on a hillside with views of the Potomac River and Washington, D.C.—became the center of respect for the country's soldiers.

Similar rituals were previously held in France and England, where one unknown soldier was buried in the highest place of honor in each country (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). All of these acts of remembrance occurred on November 11, commemorating the celebrated conclusion of World War I fighting at 11 a.m. on that day in 1918. (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). "Armistice Day" was given to the day.

In America, Armistice Day was given its current name in 1926 as a result of a Congressional decision. By comparable Congressional action twelve years later, it was made a federal holiday. November 11 might still be recognized as Armistice Day if the utopian promise that World War I would be "the War to end all wars" had come true. But shortly after the celebration was declared, war broke out in Europe. Participating were sixteen and a half million Americans. Over 292,000 of them lost their lives in battle, or 47 000 died while serving.

Armistice Day Changed to Honor All Veterans

The inaugural Veterans Day event took place in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. In order to honor all veterans, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks created "National Veterans Day," which featured a parade and other celebrations. The event took place on November 11, which was later recognized as Armistice Day. Later, a bill to rename Armistice Day to Veterans Day was put out by Kansas U.S. Representative Edward Rees. President Eisenhower signed a 1954 law from Congress designating November 11 as Veterans Day. In November 1982, President Reagan awarded Raymond Weeks the Presidential Citizens Medal. The local parade and rituals for Weeks are now a yearly occasion honored all over the country.

On Memorial Day 1958, two further unidentified American war dead were transported from abroad and buried next to the unidentified World War I veteran in the plaza. In World War II, one died, and in the Korean War, the other. An unidentified veteran of the Vietnam War was positioned next to the others in 1984. Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie's remains from Vietnam were unearthed on May 14, 1998, and taken away for burial. An Army honor guard, the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), continues a 24-hour vigil in their honor, serving as a symbol for all Americans who have sacrificed their lives in wars past and present.

Has Veterans Day Always Been on November 11?

Veterans Day is now observed nationally on the fourth Monday in October thanks to a 1968 law. But it immediately became clear that for many Americans, November 11 held historic significance. As a result, in 1978, Congress changed the celebration's date back to the customary one.

Is Veterans Day Just for the Military?

Veterans Day is a holiday dedicated to honoring and praising America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and readiness to serve and make sacrifices for the greater good.

Who is Considered a Veteran?

In the United States, a veteran is any person who has served full-time in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard. Reserve and National Guard members who have been called to active duty are also considered veterans. The first U.S. veterans served during the American Revolution. Since then, 41 million Americans have served in 11 declared wars and various conflicts throughout the world.

Interesting Facts About Today’s Veterans

1. Fewer than 500,000 World War II veterans are alive today compared to 5.7 million in 2000

2. The largest group of veterans alive today (6.4 million) served during the Vietnam Era (1964-1975)

3. The second-largest group of veterans alive today (4 million) served during peacetime

4. The median age of veterans is currently 65 years old, with post 9/11 veterans being the youngest (around 37 years old), Vietnam Era veterans in the middle (around 71 years old), and the World War II veterans being the oldest (around 93 years old)

5. Women make up about 9 percent of veterans (around 1.7 million)

6. Around one-quarter of all veterans have a service-connected disability which can include an injury, disease, or disability that active duty caused or aggravated

7. Post-9/11 and Gulf War veterans have the highest percentage of service-connected disabilities

How to Support Veterans on Veterans Day

This Veterans Day, let us all recognize the service of our veterans and show appreciation for the sacrifices they made for the country. As communities across America prepare to observe Veterans Day, start to think of ways you can show your respect for veterans. Some ideas include:

- Fly your American flag, along with your POW/MIA flag if you have one, at full staff from sunrise to sunset. Also, you can fly other types of veterans flags

- Fly a military flag honoring a family member or friend who served

- Decorate graves of deceased veterans with cemetery flags, grave markers, American flag buntings, patriotic wreaths, or flowers, or other patriotic decorations options. 

-Send a care package overseas to active service members or to your local VA hospital

-Donate to a non-profit that supports veterans and their families

-Contact your local VA or VFW to find out if local veterans need assistance with yard work or grocery delivery

-Visit a local museum, memorial, or battlefield site to learn more about our U.S. veteran history

How Many Veterans are in the United States?

An estimated 18,611,432 veterans make up around 6% of the total U.S. population of 328,239,523. The five states that have the highest veteran populations are California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York. The five states that have the lowest veteran populations are South Dakota, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont (see each state’s veteran population in the list below, from highest to lowest).

Veteran Population by State (highest to lowest)

  • California: 1,618,861 
  • Texas: 1,474,232 
  • Florida: 1,452,967 
  • Pennsylvania: 782,682 
  • New York: 730,557 
  • Ohio: 729,649 
  • Virginia: 684,480 
  • North Carolina: 667,696 
  • Georgia: 636,725 
  • Illinois: 595,185 
  • Michigan: 564,783 
  • Washington: 537,713 
  • Arizona: 487,684 
  • Tennessee: 435,040 
  • Missouri: 413,189 
  • Indiana: 390,220 
  • Colorado: 375,746 
  • Maryland: 372,462 
  • South Carolina: 366,862 
  • Wisconsin: 342,796 
  • Alabama: 335,599 
  • New Jersey: 333,835 
  • Massachusetts: 315,859 
  • Minnesota: 310,097 
  • Oregon: 288,540 
  • Oklahoma: 273,677 
  • Kentucky: 273,675 
  • Louisiana: 250,497 
  • Nevada: 208,731 
  • Arkansas: 202,572 
  • Iowa: 188,867 
  • Kansas: 181,453 
  • Connecticut: 173,998 
  • Mississippi: 168,996 
  • New Mexico: 148,264 
  • West Virginia: 134,508 
  • Utah: 123,339 
  • Nebraska: 120,290 
  • Idaho: 115,045 
  • Maine: 107,091 
  • Hawaii: 105,563 
  • New Hampshire: 97,644 
  • Montana: 85,480 
  • Alaska: 67,452 
  • Delaware: 66,590 
  • South Dakota: 59,243 
  • Rhode Island: 57,524 
  • North Dakota: 46,524 
  • Wyoming: 45,389