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Why America celebrates Veterans Day on Nov. 11

Britannica.com The Belgian city of Ypres (pronounced “Yeep”) is synonymous with the First World War. Ypres gave its name to three major battles: First Ypres (19 October - 22 November 1914), Second Ypres (21 April - 25 May 1915) and Third Ypres (31 July - 10 November 1917). The severe casualties suffered in the area made Ypres a focus for post-war remembrance. This photograph, from the third battle, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. On Sept. 29, 1918, British troops passed through the devastated town of Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium, in which total Allied and German casualties exceeded 850,000.

HOUGHTON — Military.com is a website that provides news and information about benefits to military members, veterans, their families and those with military affinity.

And, sadly, the website states that some Americans do not know why the United States commemorate its Veterans on Nov.11. As the website states, however, “It’s imperative that all Americans know the history of Veterans Day, so that we can honor our former service members properly.” Veterans Day began with end of the First World War.

World War I did not become known as World War I until World War II. Prior to the Second World War, the conflict was referred to either as The Great War, or the war to end all wars. But many people today, a century after the Great War ended, do not realize that Nov. 11 celebrates the end of hostilities, and not the end of the war.

World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

“However, the fighting ended about seven months before that when the Allies and Germany put into effect an armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” the department’s website explains. “For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, was largely considered the end of “the war to end all wars” and dubbed Armistice Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized it as the end of the war, and in 1938, it became an official holiday, primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I.

The war stands as among the very deadliest in the history of mankind, in terms of absolute numbers of killed, wounded, injured, maimed for life, or listed as missing, both military and civilian.

The Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute, estimates the total number of military and civilian casualties in WWI at approximately 40 million, including 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded; 9.7 million military personnel and approximately approximately 10 million civilians.

Military casualty statistics include combat-related deaths as well as military deaths caused by accidents, diseases, and deaths while prisoners of war, states the Centre. Among the civilian causalities, most are due to war-related famine and disease. Civilian deaths include the Armenian Genocide, the site states. While the Centre does list numbers, it is easier to look at statistical analysis. In terms of percentages of populations killed, France lost 4.29 percent of its total population.The United Kingdom recorded a percentage of 2.9 percent, while the United States, by contrast, lost just 0.13 percent of its total population.

The casualties suffered by the participants in World War I dwarfed those of previous wars, states Britannicac.com. Some 8,500,000 soldiers died as a result of wounds and/or disease. The greatest number of casualties and wounds were inflicted by artillery, followed by small arms, and then by poison gas. The bayonet, which was relied on by the prewar French Army as the decisive weapon, actually produced few casualties. War was increasingly mechanized from 1914 and produced casualties even when nothing important was happening. On even a quiet day on the Western Front, many hundreds of Allied and German soldiers died. The heaviest loss of life for a single day occurred on July 1, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties.

Two sources are included here to demonstrate the variations in estimates.

Similar uncertainties exist about the number of civilian deaths attributable to the war, states Britannica. There were no agencies established to keep records of these fatalities, but it is clear that the displacement of peoples through the movement of the war in Europe and in Asia Minor, accompanied as it was in 1918 by the most destructive outbreak of influenza in history, led to the deaths of large numbers. It has been estimated that the number of civilian deaths attributable to the war was higher than the military casualties, or around 13,000,000. These civilian deaths were largely caused by starvation, exposure, disease, military encounters, and massacres.

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, largely considered the end of “the war to end all wars,” was dubbed Armistice Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized it as the end of the war, and in 1938, it became an official holiday, primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, states the Defense Dept.

“But then World War II and the Korean War happened, so on June 1, 1954, at the urging of veterans service organizations,” the dept. continues, “Congress amended the commemoration yet again by changing the word ‘armistice’ to ‘veterans,’ so the day would honor American veterans of all wars.”

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.

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

On Oct. 25, 1971, the first Veterans Day under this new bill was held.

“We’re not sure why it took three years to implement,” the dept. wrote, “but not surprisingly, there was a lot of confusion about the change, and many states were unhappy, choosing to continue to recognize the day as they previously had — in November.”

The majority of U.S. citizens, however, were not happy with the change. The date Oct. 25 held no historic significance to the origins of the day or recognition. President Gerald Ford, on Sept. 20, 1975, signed Public Law 94-97, returning Veterans Day to Nov. 11, to take effect in 1978.

World War i, by its very nature, was a multinational effort. The Allied nations recognize Nov. 11 as a special day. But as the Defense Dept. site points out, the name of the day, and the types of commemorations, differ.

Great Britain also calls it “Remembrance Day,” 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.

“Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans,” reports military.com. However, most Americans confuse this holiday with Memorial Day, reports the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans.

Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans–living or dead–but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.

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