The high price of freedom

Freedom comes with a cost, and that cost has been steep. For example, nearly 300,000 military personnel died during World War 2 alone.

veteran's cemetery

World War II 1941–1945 291,557
American Civil War 1861–1865 214,938
World War I 1917–1918 53,402
Vietnam War 1955–1975 47,434
Korean War 1950–1953 33,686
American Revolutionary War 1775–1783 8,000
Iraq War 2003–2011 4,424
War of 1812 1812–1815 2,260
War in Afghanistan 2001–2021 1,833
Mexican–American War 1846–1849 1,733

3 veterans from different eras

Why November 11?

Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor our soldiers, was originally commemorated on November 11 at exactly 11:11 a.m. At one time, Congress tried to move the holiday, only to face several years of strong public resistance.

Established after World War I to commemorate the “war to end all wars”, this holiday was originally called Armistice Day. It is linked to the time of the cease-fire in Europe on November 11, 1918, when the war officially ended. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles didn't take place until June 28, 1919.

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson declared, "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".

Armistice Day officially received its name via a congressional resolution passed on June 4, 1926. By that time, 27 states had already made it a legal holiday.

Be a patriot any day, or gift someone else with this Made in USA flag pin.

author's father in uniform

(Army Major J.L. Kesterson, my father)

In 1938, Armistice Day officially became a legal national holiday dedicated to the cause of world peace.

After World War II, the act was amended to include veterans of World War II and the Korean War. In 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower marked the occasion with a special proclamation.

Confusion

In 1968, Congress tried to change the date of the celebration by moving the holiday to a Monday at the end of October. President Gerald Ford signed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act on June 28, 1968, changing the traditional days for Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day, to ensure they fell on a Monday, giving federal employees a three-day weekend.

Gerald R. Ford in uniform

(President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. in His United States Navy Lieutenant Commander Uniform, 1945. National Archives Identifier 187001)

The bill moved Veterans Day to the last Monday in October, beginning in 1971. Veterans groups were quick to oppose the date change, and two states refused to switch. By 1974, confusion abounded, with most states deciding against an October commemoration.

Newspaper editorials at that time offered an explanation of why the switch would not work. The majority of states had spoken. Therefore, Congress should heed their preference. However, all veterans organizations kept the original date.

A few months after the editorials, 46 of the 50 states decided to ignore the federal celebration in October. By the middle of 1975, Congress amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and moved Veterans Day back to November 11. President Gerald Ford signed the act on September 20, 1975. The first November Veterans Day was celebrated in 1978.

But the debate didn't end. Many felt veterans deserved to be honored on their own special day rather than having a date forced on them by the government.

author's uncle in uniform

(my uncle, Dr. Robert Kesterson, US Army Medical Corps)

British and Canadian celebrations

Remembrance Day was first observed throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919. From 1921 to 1930, Armistice Day was held on the Monday of the week during which November 11 fell. Every year on that day, Canadians pause for a moment of silence to honor and remember the men and women who served and those who continue to serve Canada during times of war and peace. They honor the more than 2,300,000 Canadians who have served throughout the nation’s history and the more than 118,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Among the nations also observing Remembrance Day on November 11 are France, Belgium, Poland, and Iceland.

Floral symbol

clump of red poppies growing by a lake

In 1924, the American Legion began selling small replicas of the poppy and donating the proceeds to help veterans. The flower became the symbol of Veterans Day.

Since World War I, the red poppy has been recognized as a symbol of sacrifice worn to honor those who served and died for our country in all wars. It represents the sacrifices our veterans have made to protect our freedoms. Honor those who have worn our nation's uniform by wearing a poppy on Veterans Day.

woman making poppy buttoneers

(photo: Mike Weston ABIPP/MOD, OGL v1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

soldier walking through a battle field

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