For over four years, the "Great War" churned the fields of France and claimed the lives of 9 million soldiers and 10 million civilians. At 11 AM "French Time" this date 91 years ago--11 November 1918--an armistice ending the fighting went into effect. As the guns went quiet at the appointed hour, observers at the front reported an unbroken cheer that rose from both the Allied and German trenches and ran the length of the line from the Vosges Mountains to the Baltic Sea. An entire generation of French and German men had been bled white--each of those nations sent nearly 80% of their men between the ages of 18 and 49 to battle. The United States entered the war officially in its last year and suffered nearly 117,000 killed in action.
The next year, November 11, 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day: "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." In 1921 Congress passed legislation approving the establishment of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was held on November 11, 1921 and that date was declared a legal Federal holiday to honor all those who participated in the war.
In 1926 Congress resolved that the President should issue an annual proclamation calling for Americans to observe Armistice Day, and in 1938 passed legislation making every 11th of November the legal Federal holiday, Armistice Day. Because the United States Constitution does not grant the Federal government the power to establish national holidays (only holidays for federal workers and the District of Columbia), that right is reserved to the states. However, most states followed the Federal government's lead and declared 11 November a holiday to honor all of the Americans who had fought in the First World War.
With the advent of the hostilities that consumed the world in the late 1930's and early 40's the "Great War" soon lost its claim on greatness and became known as the First World War. During the Second World War, the world's total population was just shy of two billion souls. Total deaths attributable to the war by its end have been estimated to have been somewhere between 62 and 79 million. The United States suffered nearly 417,000 military deaths.
On June 1, 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing the name of the legal federal holiday from Armistice Day to Veteran's Day--a day to honor all U.S. military veterans, separate and distinct from Memorial Day (the much more solemn and important day on which we commemorate the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrificial price for freedom in our nation's wars). In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law making the fourth Monday in October the new date for the observance of Veteran's Day. The new date, which took effect in 1971, was recognized by all of the states except Mississippi and South Dakota. Over the next four years, 26 more states asserted their holiday rights and changed the date of their state observances of Veteran's Day back to the 11th of November. Congress followed suit and passed legislation in 1975 returning the Federal observance of Veteran's Day to November 11 beginning in 1978.
It is appropriate on Veteran's Day to salute, recognize, and remember any American who has honorably served or is serving in the armed forces of the United States. The Colonel wishes to extend particular thanks to three members of his immediate family(SMSGT Vernon Gregory, LTCOL Jack Cannon, and MAJ Bruce Gregory) whose combined career uniformed service to their nation in the United States Air Force totals nearly two thirds of a century.