Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
On November 11, 1918, in a railroad car (that is owned by Marshal Ferdinand Foch) somewhere in the Forest of Compiegene, France the armistice to end World War I was signed. Once the news got out, celebrations began in Paris, London and New York City, where more than a million Americans jammed Broadway and danced in the streets, and hurled ticker tape out windows. [WWI was then called "The Great War" because Americans felt there could be no other war any greater. Little did they know what the future would hold!]
This armistice became an annual observance on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1920's. Only back then, they called it "Remembrance Day" in England and Canada, but the United States called it either Armistice Day or Victory Day. This is where you get the term "V Day" and people making the "V" sign with their fingers. (Later on, in the 60's, this became known as the Peace Sign.)
In 1921, the United States began honoring it's war dead. However, November 11th did not become a legal federal holiday until 17 years later in 1938.
Back then, it was felt that the death and destruction of the First World War would never be repeated. Unfortunately, World War II changed this belief. So, for many years the celebrations of the armistice on 11-11-1918 got little attention or acknowledgement.
A shoe cobbler in Emporia, Kansas named Alvin J. King and Kansas Congressman Ed Rees introduced a bill to Congress to change the name of this observance from Armistice Day to Veteran's Day. Mr. King never served in the military because he was too young to serve during WWI. (It is said that he did try to join the Navy at the age of 15. ) During WWII, he was active in a group called American War Dads, having great respect for all military personnel. Both Mr. King and Mr. Rees' efforts were rewarded. President Dwight Eisenhower ,on October 8, 1954 signed a bill declaring that Armistice Day would thereafter be commemorated as Veterans Day. Because of these two men, Emporia, Kansas is considered the founding city of Veterans Day and honors it's veterans every year. And on April 4, 2003 the Kansas legislature officially named Emporia as birthplace of Veterans Day. ( Here is a great story with more background and first celebration.)
celebrations and observances take place all over the United States, but in many
different ways. Many visit the Viet Nam Memorial. Others visit the Tomb of
the Unknown Soldier.
And in thousands of small towns across the country, many put flowers on the graves of lost loved ones. Many towns hold military balls, parades and religious services in honor of veterans. In Wilmington, NC the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial (a restored WWII ship docked there) observes Veterans Day. In some places, the 11th day of the 11th month is often celebrated with a moment of silence at 11:00 am in the morning, the hour at which the hostilities ended and the armistice was signed. During this 2-minute moment of silence, "Taps" are usually played.
Has Veterans Day always been on November 11th?
No. In 1968 legislation was passed to make Veterans Day the 4th Monday in October. However, many didn't like that because that wasn't the date the armistice was actually signed. The 4th Monday in May didn't have any significance. It was Veteran groups that urged November 11th be set aside as a tribute to all who served in the armed forces. This meant everyone who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed a bill making Veterans Day a federal holiday on the second Monday in November. But it was in 1978 Congress undid what they did ten years earlier and declared that Veterans Day be always on November 11th regardless of the day of the week it falls on.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
As I said above, the US did not begin honoring it's war dead until 1921. It was at this time the remains of an unknown American soldier (who died fighting in France) were disinterred and transported back to the US. The remains were referred to as the "unknown soldier" were kept at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. lying in state for 3 days. Then they were moved to their final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. To honor these men, (who symbolize all Americans who gave their lives in all wars) an Army honor guard, the 3d U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), keeps day and night vigil.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier had only the unidentified soldier from WWI in it for many years. Then in 1958, two more unidentified American soldiers who died in WWII, and one from the Korean War were buried next to the soldier from WWI. Now 3 unidentified soldiers were in the tomb.
Technically, the Viet Nam War wasn't a declared war. It was a conflict. But, in 1973, a law was passed giving internment of an unknown American soldier who died in the Viet Nam War. But because our technology has advanced so much in identifying the deceased, it wasn't until 1984 that this unidentified soldier was buried in the tomb with the others.
However, due to
the advancements in science with DNA testing, in 1998 the unknown soldier from
the Viet Nam War was identified as Michael Blassie, 24 yrs., Air Force pilot
shot down in May 1972 near the Cambodian border. His body was then
disinterred and reburied by his family in St. Louis, Missouri.
As I mention on the Patriotic Symbols page, Memorial Day often means selling poppies. Poppies are also a symbol for Veterans Day as well. Why? Most people think of the poppy and think of the drug opium. But the poppy grows wild in fields all over Europe. Think of the image of a poppy field that was seen on "The Wizaard of Oz?" Many American soldiers died (and were buried) in those fields covered with red poppy flowers. Some symbolize those red poppies also as the blood shed. John McCrae was a poet who popularized the image of the poppy in his war poem with these famous lines:
fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row."
Flanders had some very heavy fighting during the war and for the poet and many others, the poppy not only symbolized the blood that was shed and the beauty of the landscape.
Because of this symbolism, artificial paper poppies are sold by veteran organizations on November 11th and worn on clothing. Some graves are also decorated with poppies.
The History of the 21-Gun Salute at Funerals
The use of gun salutes for military occasions is traced to early warriors who demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective. Apparently this custom was universal, with the specific act varying with time and place, depending on the weapons being used. A North African tribe, for example, trailed the points of their spears on the ground to indicate that they did not mean to be hostile.
The tradition of rendering a salute by cannon originated in the 14th century as firearms and cannons came into use. Since these early devices contained only one projectile, discharging them once rendered them ineffective. Originally warships fired seven-gun salutes--the number seven probably selected because of its astrological and Biblical significance. Seven planets had been identified and the phases of the moon changed every seven days. The Bible states that God rested on the seventh day after Creation, that every seventh year was sabbatical and that the seven times seventh year ushered in the Jubilee year.
Land batteries, having a greater supply of gunpowder, were able to fire three guns for every shot fired afloat, hence the salute by shore batteries was 21 guns. The multiple of three probably was chosen because of the mystical significance of the number three in many ancient civilizations. Early gunpowder, composed mainly of sodium nitrate, spoiled easily at sea, but could be kept cooler and drier in land magazines. When potassium nitrate improved the quality of gunpowder, ships at sea adopted the salute of 21 guns.
The 21-gun salute became the highest honor a nation rendered. Varying customs among the maritime powers led to confusion in saluting and return of salutes. Great Britain, the world's preeminent seapower in the 18th and 19th centuries, compelled weaker nations to salute first, and for a time monarchies received more guns than did republics. Eventually, by agreement, the international salute was established at 21 guns, although the United States did not agree on this procedure until August 1875.
The gun salute system of the United States has changed considerably over the years. In 1810, the "national salute" was defined by the War Department as equal to the number of states in the Union--at that time 17. This salute was fired by all U.S. military installations at 1:00 p.m. (later at noon) on Independence Day. The President also received a salute equal to the number of states whenever he visited a military installation.
In 1842, the Presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns. In 1890, regulations designated the "national salute" as 21 guns and redesignated the traditional Independence Day salute, the "Salute to the Union," equal to the number of states. Fifty guns are also fired on all military installations equipped to do so at the close of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.
Today the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President and President-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.
Gun salutes are also rendered to other military and civilian leaders of this and other nations. The number of guns is based on their protocol rank. These salutes are always in odd numbers.
Source: Headquarters, Military District of Washington, FACT SHEET: GUN SALUTES, May 1969.
For more information, also visit our Patriotic Symbols of America page.
Midi is "Taps"
Sources of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs 3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003