What Does Veterans Day Mean?
Veterans Day is an important day set aside to honor and show appreciation for ALL who have served in the United States military—in wartime or peacetime, living or deceased.
”We can’t all be heroes; someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
In Canada, November 11 is called Remembrance Day. This day, which is more similar to Memorial Day than Veterans Day, honors veterans who have died in service to their country.
What’s the Difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?
On both Veterans Day and Memorial Day, it’s customary to spend time remembering and honoring the countless veterans who have served the United States throughout the country’s history. However, there is a distinction between the two holidays:
- Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL who have served, living or deceased, but in particular the living veterans among us.
- Memorial Day specifically commemorates the men and women who died while serving their country and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
A Short History of Veterans Day
Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day in the United States, commemorating the signing of the agreement that ended World War I at 11:00 A.M., November 11, 1918. President Woodrow Wilson celebrated the first Armistice Day in 1919.
In 1938, November 11 became a legal holiday by an act of Congress.
In 1954, this federal holiday was changed from “Armistice” to “Veterans” Day.
Although this holiday initially honored those who perished in service to their country, when the holiday’s name was changed to Veterans Day, it became a day to honor ALL the men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States.
Each year, special ceremonies are held at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Here are 10 ways you can show vets that you appreciate the sacrifices they made:
- If you personally know a veteran (perhaps a relative, friend, or even a neighbor), reach out to them on Veterans Day with a phone call or visit! This is one opportunity to engage beyond just saying thank you. If they are comfortable discussing it, ask a vet where they served, where they were stationed, what specific jobs they did while serving, and so on.
- If you’re not close to a veteran, write a thank you card and drop it off at a VA hospital. If you’re not in time for this Veterans Day, that’s fine; a thoughtful card is appreciated any time. Or, contact Operation Gratitude, which sends letters of thanks and care packages to veterans as well as deployed vets.
- Place a small flag on every veteran’s grave. This is an annual tradition for many scout troops. In some states, there are “Operation Flags For Vets” organizations. Call your local cemetery first for permission.
- Do you have a driver’s license? Help bring disabled vets to their doctor appointments. Contact the hospital service coordinator [PDF] at your local VA Hospital.
- If you make charitable donations, consider helping wounded veterans. Or, sponsor an “honor flight” to send veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to Washington D.C. to see their national monuments. Donate here.
- Perhaps you or your church group or scout group would like to actively help a vet in your own community? Contact a local veterans assistance program, such as the one offered by DAV. From helping do yard work or running errands. There’s sure to be a need.
- Call your Veterans Administration Hospital. See how you can help out.
- Display the flag proudly to salute our veterans! See how to properly display the American Flag.
- Read the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and reflect on the poem’s significance to veterans.
- Spend an hour or more learning about our nation’s veterans. The Great War Society has developed a Web site devoted to World War I educational materials. The World War II Memorial celebrates the victory of “the greatest generation” with a design that uses moving water to harmonize with its natural surroundings. Visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial online; this moving memorial, dedicated in 1995, is the latest addition to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. See a registry of all the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Learn more about the military men and women who are on duty today.