Every November 11, kids get the day off from school, alternate-side parking is suspended, and roughly 25,000 people march up Fifth Avenue in New York City. That evening, news programs typically run short segments about Veterans Day, a federal holiday known to most, but understood by few.
“On Veterans Day, we salute our Veterans and extend our gratitude for their service,” says Glenda Powell, a spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“They are our relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers. These individuals committed to a cause larger than their own and accepted the challenge to defend our Nation.”
A History of Saying Thank You
How old are Veterans Day traditions? When it was first celebrated as Armistice Day in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson asked Americans to use the day to reflect “with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s Service” during World War I before an armistice ended the fighting on Nov. 11, 1918.
That date was made a federal holiday in 1938, and in 1947, a World War II Veteran organized the first National Veterans Day celebration to honor all of those who had served.
In 1954, Congress approved legislation to change the holiday’s name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in order to honor American Veterans of all wars.
Helping Heroes Feel At Home
“Veterans Day is for all of us to get together and thank each other,” says Joseph Tiralongo, who was called into Active Duty during his eight-year tenure in the Marines. He served in the first Gulf War, where he was injured by shrapnel in Iraq. He finally returned home safely in 1997 after several years of serving abroad.
Tiralongo started working with his local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) chapter five years ago, assisting Veterans seeking their benefits. Today, he is the New York District 1 VFW Commander, overseeing the VFWs in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. He says a local VFW should serve as a community center where all Military members and Veterans feel welcome.
More Ways To Remember
Besides thanking Veterans, what else should people do on November 11?
Many people may not realize there are Veterans in their own families. Today, in fact, there are over 20 million Veterans in America—including two million women. Asking family members about their service and their experiences is another way to honor the Veterans who have given so much to this country. And while celebratory traditions differ from one community to the next, Tiralongo and Powell agree that all deserve to be commemorated each year, on this day.
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By Cole Louison
Originally published November 2016.