“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” Students of history will instantly recognize this as the moment in 1918 the hostilities of World War I ended. This was the announced timing of the armistice and the reason Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11. Originally called Armistice Day, Nov. 11 was first set aside to honor those who fought in “The Great War,” considered at the time to be “the war to end all wars.”
That hopeful refrain was erased by World War II, so in 1954 the name and purpose of Armistice Day was changed by an act of Congress. Nov. 11 would henceforth be known as Veterans Day, a day to honor all U.S. servicemen and women. That held true until 1971, when the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect and most federal observances were moved to Mondays, to provide workers three-day holidays. The significance of the Nov. 11 date was too great, however, and Veterans Day returned to its “eleventh day, eleventh month” place of honor in 1975. The result is that Veterans Day is one of the few federal holidays that falls on a specific date, rather than moving to accommodate a Monday observance – Christmas, Thanksgiving and Independence Day being other notable exceptions.
Veterans Day holds special significance in west-central Missouri as we are home to Whiteman Air Force Base. We are blessed to have the airmen and women of Whiteman, as well as so many other military personnel attached to the base, among our neighbors. We are constantly reminded of how their service to the nation enriches our communities as well. On a more personal level, Veterans Day means a lot to me because I served in the Missouri Army National Guard as a member of Delta Battery, 1st Battalion, 129th Missouri Field Artillery Regiment. This is the same unit a 33-year-old captain from Missouri commanded in France during World War I. Harry Truman didn’t need to be at war. He had already served, originally enlisting in 1905 and was later discharged as a corporal. When America entered World War I, the future U.S. president reenlisted and served with distinction.
Truman was just one of a long line of Americans who have worn the uniform of the various branches of the U.S. military. Some, like Truman, served overseas in combat. Others, such as myself, performed their duties closer to home.
According the U.S. Bureau of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 19 million American military veterans alive today. That works out to be about 7 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about one out of every 15 Americans over the age of 18. The face of the U.S. veteran continues to change with our aging population. Veterans who entered service since 1990 (generally considered to be Gulf-era service) now outnumber those who served during the Vietnam era, as well as peacetime vets. Fewer than a million Korean War veterans are alive today, and barely a quarter million World War II vets survive. The last U.S. veteran of World War I passed away more than a decade ago.
The men and women who step forward to serve America’s military deserve our respect and gratitude. Veterans Day honors all who served, regardless of when or where. All veterans are a hero on this day. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to seek out past and present soldiers, airmen, sailors and other veterans on Nov. 11 and thank them for their service.