Veteran FlagEvery November 11, patriotic Americans set aside time to honor military veterans, both alive and passed, and thank and remember them for their service. Today we call this special day Veterans Day. But it wasn’t always called that. In fact, it wasn’t even a national holiday for a long time.

Originally called Armistice Day, the holiday commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, when fighting ceased in what was at the time shortsightedly called The War to End All Wars. (Nobody knew that 20 years later the world would fight again.) Seven months after the cease-fire armistice was signed, the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, officially ending the war between Germany and the Allied and Associated Powers.

Immediately after the war ended, grateful citizens and veteran groups started lobbying for official recognition of the war’s end with a national holiday. By 1938, 27 states had made November 11 a legal holiday in commemoration, so on May 13, Congress made it a federal holiday by passing legislation that declared November 11 “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”

By the time World War II ended, over 16 million veterans had served, and by the end of the Korean War, 5.7 million more were added to the rolls. After extensive lobbying by veteran groups and service organizations, Congress amended the law in 1954 to remove “Armistice” and replace it with the broader-reaching term “Veterans” to honor all who had served.

But then it got confusing. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved four federal holidays – Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day – to Mondays instead of a certain date. The new law took effect January 1, 1971 and made the first Veterans Day under the new law fall on October 25. When President Gerald Ford, a Navy veteran, took office in 1973, he recognized the significance November 11 held in American history and urged Congress to reverse the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which it did in 1975.

Today, thanks to United States Senate Resolution 143, which passed on August 4, 2001, Veterans Day is the beginning of National Veterans Awareness Week, which run November 11-17 for the purpose of educating elementary and secondary school children on the sacrifices and contributions of veterans.

As we celebrate Veterans Day this November 11, let us remember the sacrifices of those who currently serve and those who have served in the past. Thank one of the over 21 million veterans currently living in the United States. Shake a hand. Tell them how grateful you are. Most of all, remember what they have done to protect and preserve this country.