It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was the end of World War I, often called "the War to end all wars." It seemed like the appropriate day to designate for those who had fought during that war.
Down through the years there have been so many different wars. After the horrors of World War I, it was fervently hoped that there would not be another war. People were thinking of peace.
From Armistice Day to Veterans Day, this is truly a day to honor all veterans.
Peace to All the World
Three years after the end of World War I, an American soldier whose name was not known, was buried in Washington, DC, on a hill overlooking the Potomac River, in Arlington Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier became the focal point for American veterans. This grave will forever represent reverence and dignity.
Before you think this was simply an American holiday, there were similar ceremonies in England and France. The tomb of the unknown soldier in England is found in Westminster Abbey. In France, the unknown soldier is buried in the Arc de Triomphe. These final resting places were selected because it was felt they were the highest places of honor in their respective countries.
While the first ceremonies took place in 1921, it wasn't until 1926 that the day was known as Armistice Day. This name was bestowed by a Congressional act. This name was selected because of the fervent hope that it really was the war to end all wars.
Twelve years later, again by Congressional act, Armistice Day became a national holiday. Unfortunately, it would not be long before the world was once again at war. It is interesting to think that had World War I truly been the war to end all wars that it is likely we would still be celebrating Armistice Day.
By 1945, some 16.5 million Americans will have taken part in World War II. Of those, about 406,000 would die. Something needed to be done to help the families of those who lost their loved ones and friends during the war.
The answer to this problem was proposed by Representative Edwin K. Rees of Kansas. He suggested changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. This way Americans could honor all veterans of all wars.
In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11th as Veterans Day. With the exception of a brief period from 1968 to 1978, when a law changed the date from the 11th to the fourth Monday in October, Americans have celebrated Veterans Day every since.
As genealogists, we spend a great deal of time looking through a variety of records for our ancestors who fought or otherwise participated in the wars that mark the history of the world. Sometimes I think that we are so focused on the genealogy of these records that we fail to stop and remember the true sacrifices our ancestors made to bring the future that we would inherit. So, take a moment today to say a thank-you to your ancestors and all the others who did what had to be done. Take a moment to visit your family in the cemeteries and remember them as people instead of just as names in your database.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.