World War I: The war to end all wars

(MTU Archives) Veteran soldiers of the Great War marched in a welcome home parade in Houghton, in this undated photograph from the Reeder Collection of the MTU Archives.

World War I marked a change. It ended the age of Monarchies. It also ended 19 million lives. Intense use of poison gases, such as chlorine, mustard gas, bromine, and phosgene, so heavily saturated the earth that in some areas of France and Belgium, human habitation is impossible to this day. World War I destroyed lives, towns, cities, and eliminated nations, redrawing national borders of Europe, and in the end, resolved very little, other than to set the stage for World War II.

An armistice to end the fighting went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. The Treaty of Versailles officially ending the war was signed on June, 28, 1919.

The “Great War,” or the “World War,” was considered, with naivety, “the war to end all wars.” and Nov. 11 was dubbed “Armistice Day. Congress officially recognized the day as the end of the war in 1926, and in 1938, it was declared an official holiday, set aside to honor the veterans of WWI.

After World War II and the Korean War, veterans service organizations urged Congress to amend the day to honor American veterans of all wars. On June 1, 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day.

History.com states that for a while, Veterans Day’s date was changed, too,” and it confused everybody.”

Congress signed the Uniform Holiday Bill in 1968 to ensure that a few federal holidays — Veterans Day included — would be celebrated on a Monday. Officials hoped it would spur travel and other family activities over a long weekend, which would stimulate the economy, states the History website.

For some inexplicable reason, the bill set Veterans Day commemorations for the fourth Monday of every October.

While the first Veterans (no apostrophe) Day was first celebrated under the new bill on Oct. 25, 1971, many states were not happy with the date change, and continued celebrating the holiday in November.

Within a few years, it became apparent that most U.S. citizens wanted to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, since it was a matter of historic and patriotic significance. So on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed another law (Public Law 94-97), which returned the annual observance to its original date starting in 1978.

World War I was a multinational effort, so it makes sense that the Allies also wanted to celebrate their veterans on Nov. 11. The name of the day and the types of commemorations differ, however.

Canada and Australia, for example, both call Nov. 11 “Remembrance Day.” Canada’s observance is is much like that of the U.S., except many of its citizens wear red poppy flowers to honor their war dead. In Australia, the day is more akin to the U.S. Memorial Day.

Great Britain calls it “Remembrance Day,” too, but observes it on the Sunday closest to Nov. 11 with parades, services and two minutes of silence in London to honor those who lost their lives in war.


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