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Spirit of Victory

A look back at the origins and evolution of a federal holiday that honors Americans who fought for the peace of others.

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Spirit of Victory
American Legion Library

Veterans serving veterans

Since 1954, The American Legion has served six times as the host veterans service organization at the Veterans Day National Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery – 1954, 1959, 1968, 1976, 1987 and 2005.

The last U.S. veteran of the Great War

Of the estimated 2 million Americans who served in Europe after the United States entered the war in 1917, only one remains: Frank Woodruff Buckles, 109, of Charlestown, W.Va. He served in England, France and Germany as a motorcycle driver for dignitaries, an ambulance driver and a prison guard. In 1941, while employed by American President Steamship Lines, Buckles was in Manila when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. He spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war. Buckles has been a member of American Legion Post 945 in Jefferson Valley, N.Y., since 1931.

Last man standing

The last veteran to fight in the American Revolution died at age 109 in 1869, according to Defense Department statistics. Other wars and the ages of their last veterans the year they died: the War of 1812, 105, 1905; the Indian Wars, 101, 1973; the Mexican War, 98, 1929; the Civil War, 112, 1958; and the Spanish-American War, 106, 1992.

Q: Which is the correct spelling of Veterans Day?

a. Veterans Dayb. Veteran’s Dayc. Veterans’ Day

A. Veterans Day. “Veterans Day” does not include an apostrophe but does include an “s” at the end of “veterans” because it is not a day that “belongs” to veterans. It is a day for honoring all veterans.

What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.

Why do some schools close and others don’t on Veterans Day?

Because there is no legal requirement that schools close on Veterans Day, individual states or school districts are free to establish their own policies on school closings. Most schools that do not close for Veterans Day schedule assemblies or other activities to honor U.S. veterans on Veterans Day and throughout the week.

Is Veterans Day celebrated in other countries?

Yes, a number of countries honor their war veterans each year on Nov. 11, although the name and types of commemorations differ from Veterans Day celebrations in the United States.

For example, Canada and Australia observe “Remembrance Day” on Nov. 11, and Great Britain observes “Remembrance Day” on the Sunday nearest to Nov. 11. There are similarities and differences between these countries’ Remembrance Day and America’s Veterans Day.

Canada’s observance is actually quite similar to the U.S. celebration, in that the day is intended to honor all who served in Canada’s armed forces. Many Canadians wear red poppy flowers on Nov. 11 in honor of their war dead. In Australia, Remembrance Day is very much like America’s Memorial Day, honoring that nation’s war dead.

In Great Britain, the day is commemorated by church services and parades of ex-servicemembers in Whitehall, a wide ceremonial avenue leading from London’s Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. Wreaths of poppies are left at the Cenotaph, a war memorial in Whitehall built after World War I. There and elsewhere in the country, a two-minute silence is observed at 11 a.m. to honor those who lost their lives in wars.

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