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Veterans Day rooted in ending war to end wars

One hundred years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, soldiers from many nations lowered their swords and quieted their rifles, as hostilities were put to a stop in what was then called The Great War, or “the war to end all wars.”

We, of course now, refer to this military undertaking as World War I, as anyone who’s ever cracked open a history book will know that a second, much grander, deadlier and more destructive war came about just a couple of decades later.

But still The Great War, like any instance in which a loss of life is recorded, is regarded as a tragedy of great measure, the likes of which the world in the early 20th century had never quite seen before. Estimates of the war’s death toll, including civilian casualties, are as high as 40 million people.

Though the official end of World War I didn’t occur until June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in France, fighting had ended seven months earlier when an armistice went into effect at 11 a.m., on the 11th of November. That armistice led to the U.S.’s eventual annual recognition of Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m., according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website on the observance’s history.

In November 1919, the website states, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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 nations …”

Within about a decade, many state legislatures declared Nov. 11 as a legal holiday. On May 13, 1938, approval of an act made Nov. 11 a legal holiday, then known as Armistice Day, which the VA website said was set aside to honor WWI vets.

However, after World War II’s stunning figures and following the conflict in Korea, Congress in 1954 amended the 1938 act by replacing the word “Armistice” with “Veterans.” Approval of that change on June 1, 1954, made Nov. 11 a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Through all the wars and conflicts, America’s soldiers have stood steadfast in the defense of our democracy and the protection of our liberties, and many have risked or lost their lives to the cause of ensuring the survival of our country.

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