The Origins of Veterans Day

Everything You Need to Know About November 11
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Modern photograph of a man in WWI-era uniform, visible only from the neck up, framed by an enormous U.S. flag blowing in the wind.

What is Veterans Day?

Fighting ended on the Western Front of the First World War on Nov. 11, 1918. Celebrations of the end of war soon turned solemn, in remembrance of all who were lost. Armistice Day, officially recognized by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, began to be observed throughout the world, honoring those who brought about the end of the “Great War.”

Armistice Day continued to be an important part of national identity and global memory, even as the world entered another war in 1939. In the aftermath of World War II, the day took on additional meaning. British Commonwealth countries adopted the name “Remembrance Day” or “Remembrance Sunday,” commemorating all soldiers who died, not just those of World War I.

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Sepia panorama of a large crowd filling the mall in front of the Liberty Memorial.
Photograph of the dedication of Liberty Memorial, Nov. 11, 1926. (Click image for more information)

When did Armistice Day become Veterans Day?

In 1954, after the return of service personnel from both World War II and the Korean War, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill rededicating Nov. 11 as Veterans Day, encouraging Americans to commit themselves to the cause of peace and to honor America’s veterans for their courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice.

Nov. 11 has always been an important date for the Museum and Memorial. The Memorial, then known as the Liberty Memorial, was originally dedicated on Armistice Day in 1926, with U.S. President Calvin Coolidge delivering the dedication speech to a crowd of 150,000 people – the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed to that point in time.

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Vintage color photograph of a large crowd filling the mall in front of the Liberty Memorial.
Nov. 11, 1961, during the Rededication of the Liberty Memorial. (Click image for more information)
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Black and white photograph of the "Memory" sphinx and Exhibit Hall surrounded by people and flags.
Images from Veterans Day, 1965. (Click image for more information)

 

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Vintage color photograph of an older white man in a trench coat and hat standing next to several people dressed in WWI-era clothing and uniforms, in front of a Salvation Army mobile canteen.
Images from Veterans Day, 1965. Guests included WWI Medal of Honor Recipient, John L. Barkley, pictured at right in the color photograph. (Click image for more information)

The Memorial became a dynamic addition to Kansas City’s—and the nation's—cultural landscape, continuing to mark the Armistice and then Veterans Day after President Eisenhower rededicated the holiday. It has served as host to commemoration events ever since, including that for the Centennial of the Armistice on Nov. 11, 2018.

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Modern photograph of men dressed in uniforms from different countries standing in a line behind a line of wreaths, all in front of the base of the Liberty Memorial.
As part of the Armistice centennial on Nov. 11, 2018, wreaths were laid in honor of the lives lost from each continent that served, represented by service members from Canada, Belgium, United States, Rwanda, Japan, Australia and Brazil.