Veterans Day originated in 1919 as Armistice Day on the one-year anniversary of the armistice that brought about the end of World War I, an event that occurred on the eleventh month, the eleventh day and the eleventh hour of 1918.
In 1926, a resolution was passed by Congress making Armistice Day an annual observance. In 1938, Armistice Day was recognized as a national holiday.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day, a holiday that includes and honors all veterans, living and dead, who are serving or has served in any U.S. war.
In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill moved Veterans Day from Nov. 11 to the fourth Monday in October. The change did not go into effect until 1971. In 1975, President Gerald Ford returned the Veteran’s Day holiday to November 11.
Canada’s equivalent of Veteran’s Day in the U.S. is known as Remembrance Day.
The poem, “In Flanders Field,” by Canadian soldier, doctor, artist and author, John McCrae, is one of the most popular poems to have emerged from the WWI battlefields.
Enlisting in WWI in 1914, Major McCrae (brigade surgeon) was sent to Belgium’s Flanders region.
The deaths of 5,000 troops in the region, among them Lt. Alexis Helmer, McCrae’s friend, prompted McCrae to write “In Flanders Field.”
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders field.
The red poppies at Flanders alluded to by McCrae were red, and thus symbolized the blood of soldiers who fell in battle there.
Affected by McCrae’s poem, Moina Michael, sought to keep the memory of McCrae and those who have perished in war alive. As a result of a campaign Michael led, the American Legion adopted the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance in 1920.