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Holiday History - Veterans Day

Over there, over there Send the word, send the word over there That the Yanks are coming The Yanks are coming The drums rum tumming everywhere So prepare, say a prayer Send the word, send the word to beware We'll be over, we're coming over And we won't come back till it's over, over there ~ Chorus from "Over There" by George M. Cohan, 1917

From Armistice Day to Veterans Day

The history of Veterans Day in the United States began in 1919, as citizens observed the one-year anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I. The armistice went into effect on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 AM Central European Time (CET). Originally known as Armistice Day, the holiday was officially instituted in the United States in 1938. While it is still called Armistice Day by various countries around the world, the U.S. later changed the name of its observation of the holiday to Veterans Day in 1954, as it had become a holiday to commemorate not just the veterans of WWI, but veterans of all wars.

Members of Company H, 5th Nebraska Infantry, Aurora, NE - September 6, 1917 #117-171

Traditions and Symbols

Similar to Memorial Day (observed annually on the last Monday in May), Veterans Day is a time to commemorate veterans who have passed on. However, Veterans Day is also distinct from Memorial Day in that it recognizes all veterans - both past and present. Various ways of observing Veterans Day around the country include...

  • Holding ceremonies and placing flowers at veterans' gravesites and cemeteries

  • Holding ceremonies at various war memorials

  • Having a moment of silence at 11:00 AM

  • Flying the American flag at half-mast

  • Community meals

  • Educational events at schools and libraries

  • Businesses and offices closing for the day

  • Parades and military demonstrations

  • Musical events and programs

A few symbols also seen during Veterans Day may include the American flag being flown in various locations to display patriotism, yellow ribbons being worn to symbolize Homefront support for veterans - especially from those waiting for a loved one in the armed forces to return home - and red poppies. The poppies in particular have a fascinating history of symbolism for this day. During World War I, in December of 1915, a Canadian doctor and teacher, John McCrae, had a poem published in England's Punch magazine. The poem was called, "In Flanders Fields," and its words resonated all over the world as encapsulating the sacrifices of veterans in wartime. In the poem, McCrae describes the poppies that he saw growing in Flanders Fields - a field where veterans killed in combat had been buried, including a close friend of McCrae's. McCrae was moved by how, despite the death and destruction, bright red poppies were blossoming all over the fields among the graves. Thus it became customary in many countries to wear a red poppy pin on November 11th as a reference to the poppies of Flanders Fields, and to commemorate the many ways veterans make sacrifices on the field of battle.

"In Flanders Fields"

by John McCrae

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 your 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.

Thank you veterans - both past and present - and may you all have a Happy Veterans Day! ~ The Plainsman Museum & Hamilton County Historical Society


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