What's the Matter With November 11?

The American Legion Magazine

Page 18 -- November 1972

This year, as last year, "Veterans Day" is federally recognized as falling on "the fourth Monday in October." which was the 23rd of October in 1972. Out of respect for the federal recognition, the National Commander of The American Legion agreed to participate in Oct. 23 observations in Birmingham, Ala.. to which he was kindly invited by Raymond Weeks, director of Birmingham's Veterans Day observances.

Let us hope this is the last time that the fourth Monday in October, a perfectly meaningless date, will be recognized as Veterans Day anywhere. Let us hope that every state, and the federal government, will speedily act to restore November 11 as Veterans Day. It was on November 11, 1918, that the First World War ended.

At 11 a.m. of that day (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) all firing ceased, following the signing of the Armistice. Never was the number eleven so firmly stamped on an important moment.

Until 1953, this country celebrated November 11th as Armistice Day. By then another world war had ended and the Korean cease-fire had occurred. without the nation marking in any special way the dates that ended the hostilities of these savage wars.

Business pressures opposed adding two more holidays, so, in 1953, the name of Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day, with the declared intent of making the WWI war-end date stand symbolically for the celebration marking the end of the next two wars also.

We all know the subsequent sorry history. There was no dollar sign in front of all those elevens. Thirty years of pressure by the travel and resort business to create long weekends so that it could make more money ended in Congress capitulating to create Monday holidays out of Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day. Columbus Day and Veterans Day. And in the juggling, Veterans Day was even moved into October, for no reason that had anything to do with what it celebrates. Thus do the almighty buck and the passion for a few long weekends trample on tradition and ignore meaning.

Certainly if we are going to ignore VE Day and VJ Day and the Korean cease-fire, and the hoped for Vietnam war-end, one is entitled to ask what is wrong with November 11th as the single day upon which to lump together their symbolic meaning. A war did end on that day, but no war we were ever in ended on the fourth Monday in October.

In at least six states, nobody sees anything wrong with November 11. Oklahoma and Mississippi refused to go along with the Monday holiday. and never moved Veterans Day off of Nov. 11. This year, [1972] at least four more states thought better of going along with the federal dollar reverence. They abandoned the fourth Monday in October to restore Nov. 11 as Veterans Day. They are Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and West Virginia.

At the Legion's National Convention this year, no less than 26 of our state organizations presented resolutions calling for the restoration of Veterans Day to Nov. 11, and of Memorial Day to May 30. Combined into one resolution, they passed the convention by a vote of 3,081 to nothing. The Legion will seek federal restoration of both dates, and one would hope that if Congress will not go along it will at least make clear what it is about Nov. 11 that it finds wrong. And May 30, too, for that matter. [RBP]

[Editor's note: In 1978, Congress returned the observance to its traditional date of November 11.]