Today is Veteran's Day. Schools, government offices, and some banks are closed. Most businesses will open as normal though. This is a holiday that is understated compared to some of the others. I have heard people question what is the difference between Veterans' day and Memorial Day. They do seem to have similarities at first blush, but there is a world of difference.
Memorial Day is celebrated each May. It was first celebrated in the 1860s, marking the death and remembrance of those who died in the Civil War. It continued as an observance through the decades that followed, encompassing as it went the various conflicts that followed and the Americans that died therein. That is the main theme of Memorial Day, it is a recognition of those that died in the service of this country. Unfortunately, the number grows each year. American men and women remain on the ground in a multitude of locations around the globe, in harm's way.
Veteran's day is a broader concept. It recognizes the sacrifices of the great multitude who likewise served this nation, but fortunately did not die in the process. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as commemoration of Armistice Day, the end of the First World War. Armistice Day was celebrated thereafter. Congress codified the observance in 1926. By that time, 26 States recognized November 11 as a holiday.
Following the second World War, and the Korean War, Congress recognized the service of American men and women by amending the name of the November 11 holiday, substituting "Veteran's" for "Armistice." The bill making that change was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower. November 11 has since been a recognition of all American veterans of all wars, and frankly a recognition of those veterans who served in the military, ready to engage in such conflicts, even in times of relative peace.
Never satisfied, Congress altered Veteran's day once again in 1968, seeking to make various Federal holidays coincide with a Monday, so that three-day weekends would result. Veteran's Day was included in that effort. The States did not follow suit, however. Recognizing that there was historical significance to the November 11 date, and that the dichotomy in state and Federal observances was creating confusion, Congress and President Ford returned the Federal observance to November 11 in 1978.
We are approaching 100 years of recognizing the significance of November 11. According to the New York Times, the last veteran of the First World War died in 2012, two weeks short of her 111 birthday. World War Two veterans are dying rapidly in America. The National WWII Museum says the rate is about two veterans per minute, about 600 per day. They estimate that by 2036 none will remain.
But they remain today, as do those of all the conflicts since: Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan, and Iraq War. These large conflicts are easy to remember. There have been smaller conflicts in the midst, some of which have received recognition and others about which most of us never heard. Americans have guarded embassies, been attacked in foreign ports, been victims of car bombs, and more. They cannot all be listed here.
Veteran's day recognizes the living, whose service here and abroad has been to the benefit of us all. November 11 is the date on which we collectively recognize those who have served our nation as protectors. If you see a veteran today, or for that matter any day, take a moment to say thank you for all that was sacrificed so that the rest of us could safely be who and where we are, doing what we do, in the relative safety that their service purchased for us.