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Veterans Day History

In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, D.C., became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans.

Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day.”
Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar Congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was “the War to end all wars,” November 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. Sixteen and one-half million Americans took part. Four hundred seven thousand of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle.

The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized “National Veterans Day,” which included a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans. The event was held on November 11, then designated Armistice Day. Later, U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day. Raymond Weeks received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan in November 1982. Weeks’ local parade and ceremonies are now an annual event celebrated nationwide. On Memorial Day 1958, two more unidentified American war dead were brought from overseas and interred in the plaza beside the unknown soldier of World War I. One was killed in World War II, the other in the Korean War. In 1984, an unknown serviceman from the Vietnam War was placed alongside the others. The remains from Vietnam were exhumed May 14, 1998, identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, and removed for burial. To honor these men, symbolic of all Americans who gave their lives in all wars, an Army honor guard, the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), keeps day and night vigil. A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.
The Mission Of The Veterans of Foreign Wars
The mission of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is to foster patriotism, to cultivate comradeship, to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead, to assist comrades, to help their widows and orphans, to maintain true allegiance to the government of the United States of America, to its Constitution and laws, to advocate true patriotism, and to preserve and defend the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The membership of the VFW is comprised of men and women who have served their country honorably in overseas engagements for which a campaign badge or medal has been authorized by the U.S. Government.
The American Veterans of Foreign Service was formed in Columbus Ohio on September 29, 1899. Also in 1899, an organization which called itself “the Colorado Society, Army of the Philippines” was founded. During 1901-1902, three other veterans’ groups were founded. in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Altoona, Pa.
These three merged in 1903 and also took the name of the American Veterans of Foreign Service although there was no formal connection between them and the Ohio organization. In 1905, a connection was made when the Ohio and Pennsylvania organizations met in Altoona and drew up an agreement of merger. In time these organizations realized that in order to be more effective, it would be in their best interest to merge into one organization.
The year was 1913 and the three organizations agreed to hold their National Convention together in Denver, Colorado. The merger took place and the organization was named Army of the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. This name was formally changed to Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States at the 1914 National Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In today’s VFW, approximately 10,000 Posts comprise 55 Departments in 50 States plus Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Panama, the Pacific Areas, Europe, and Washington D.C.
National Conventions are held each year in the month of August in one of the major U.S. cities. The location is rotated geographically so members in all parts of the country may participate. the National officers are elected and policy for the entire organization is written by the adoption of resolutions.

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