Dear Cloture Detective,
The other weekend was Veterans Day and I was at the ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. I know the event began roughly after World War I, but I was wondering what the history behind Veterans Day was and if the same sort of ceremony existed then as it does now.
What a gorgeous day outside that was! The history behind the First Veterans Day National Ceremony is really interesting and coincides with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well. In 1921, two separate Congressional resolutions simultaneously honored veterans’ in the United States. One established a national holiday for the veterans and the other honored a veteran with a memorial service in the Capitol building. On October 31, 1921, Representative Andrew Volstead of Minnesota introduced House Joint Resolution 215, “to declare November 11, 1921, a legal public holiday.” On that day the House agreed by unanimous consent to the resolution. H.J. Res. 215 was brought up for consideration in the Senate by Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota on November 2, 1921. It passed after being reported in the Senate and established Armistice Day (later Veterans’ Day) as a new National Holiday. H.J. Res. 215 was signed it by President Harding and became Public Resolution Number 26.
In addition to this remembrance, Senator James Wadsworth of New York proposed, “a concurrent resolution authorizing the Sergeant at Arms of the House and Senate to secure a wreath to be placed upon the casket of the Unknown Soldier on November 11.” The Unknown Soldier of World War I lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on November 9, 1921 before being taken by horse drawn carriage for a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11. The ceremony was widely attended by numerous Members and Senators, as well as by President Warren G. Harding (who subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor that same day to the Unknown) and former Presidents Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. This Armistice Day resolution began what would continue for the unknown World War II soldier and unknown Korean War soldier, leading eventually to the construction of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
Later on, an Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) was approved May 13, 1938, which made the 11th of November in EACH CALENDAR YEAR a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” However, Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of various Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s), amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation, signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.