Five facts to know about Veterans Day

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DOD graphic by Veronica Mangrum

Veterans Day is a well-known American holiday, but there are also a few misconceptions about it — like how it’s spelled or whom exactly it celebrates. To clear some of that up, here are the important facts you should know.

Veterans Day does NOT have an apostrophe.

A lot of people think it’s “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day,” but they’re wrong. The holiday is not a day that “belongs” to one veteran or multiple veterans, which is what an apostrophe implies. It’s a day for honoring all veterans — so no apostrophe needed.

Veterans Day is NOT the same as Memorial Day.

A lot of Americans get this confused, and we’ll be honest — it can be a little annoying to all of the living veterans out there.

A U.S. Army Reservist reads some of the 58,307 names etched into “the Wall” of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as the sun rises in Washington, July 22, 2015. (Army photograph by Sgt. Ken Scar)

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave their lives for our country, particularly in battle or from wounds they suffered in battle. Veterans Day honors all of those who have served the country in war or peace — dead or alive — although it’s largely intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices.

It was originally called Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I.

World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. However, the fighting ended about seven months before that when the Allies and Germany put into effect an armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.   

For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, was largely considered the end of “the war to end all wars” and dubbed Armistice Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized it as the end of the war, and in 1938, it became an official holiday, primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs HR7786, June 1, 1954. This ceremony changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. (Courtesy photograph)

But then World War II and the Korean War happened, So on June 1, 1954, at the urging of veterans service organizations, Congress amended the commemoration yet again by changing the word “armistice” to “veterans” so the day would honor American veterans of all wars.  

For a while, Veterans Day’s date was changed, too, and it confused everybody.

Congress signed the Uniform Holiday Bill in 1968 to ensure that a few federal holidays — Veterans Day included -would be celebrated on a Monday. Officials hoped it would spur travel and other family activities over a long weekend, which would stimulate the economy.

For some inexplicable reason, the bill set Veterans Day commemorations for the fourth Monday of every October.

On Oct. 25, 1971, the first Veterans Day under this new bill was held. We’re not sure why it took three years to implement, but not surprisingly, there was a lot of confusion about the change, and many states were unhappy, choosing to continue to recognize the day as they previously had — in November.

Spectators and veterans hold up “Thank You” signs during the Fayetteville Veterans Day parade in Fayetteville, N.C., Nov. 10, 2012. The annual parade featured U.S. Army Reserve Command soldiers and service members and equipment from the XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division, high school bands, decorated floats, veterans organizations and Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps marching units. (Photograph courtesy of Timothy Hale)

Within a few years, it became pretty apparent that most U.S. citizens wanted to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, since it was a matter of historic and patriotic significance. So on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed another law (Public Law 94-97), which returned the annual observance to its original date starting in 1978.

Other countries celebrate it, too, in their own ways.

World War I was a multinational effort, so it makes sense that our allies also wanted to celebrate their veterans on Nov. 11. The name of the day and the types of commemorations differ, however.

Local community members, along with Airmen from the 48th Fighter Wing, participate in a Remembrance Day parade in Lakenheath Village, England, Nov. 8, 2015. Remembrance Day observance was first held Nov. 11, 1921, and hostilities formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Erin Trower)

Canada and Australia both call Nov. 11 “Remembrance Day.” Canada’s observance is pretty similar to our own, except many of its citizens wear red poppy flowers to honor their war dead. In Australia, the day is more akin to our Memorial Day.

The United Kingdom calls it “Remembrance Day,” too, but observes it on the Sunday closest to Nov. 11 with parades, services and two minutes of silence around the country to honor those who lost their lives in war. As in Canada, many citizens wear red poppies to honor their dead.