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15 Veterans Day Facts Everyone Should Know

That November date has a major significance. Find out the history of Veterans Day and more facts that'll help you appreciate the meaning of this holiday.

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Field of American flags.NoDerog/Getty Images

What is Veterans Day?

On November 11, many Americans will have a day off of work and school to honor the individuals who have served in our military. With approximately 19 million military veterans living in the United States, it’s important not to think of it as “just another holiday.” Here’s why we celebrate Veterans Day, how it’s different than Memorial Day, and some more Veterans Day facts that Americans might not know about this celebratory day. Read these Veterans Day quotes that capture the spirit of the day, and find out where veterans can get Veterans Day free meals this year.

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Portrait of EisenhowerLibrary of Congress/Getty Images

It began with a different name

Veterans Day wasn’t always called that—and it has to do with how the holiday got started. Veterans Day can trace its origins back to November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson declared that day “Armistice Day.” In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to make it an annual occurrence. It wasn’t until 1938 that it actually became a federal holiday, and until 1954 that it got the name we know it by today. President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed it to Veterans Day so that it would honor all veterans, not just signify the end of a single war.

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The 11th of November is marked on the calendar with an orange marker for veterans daygesrey/Getty Images

The day was swapped once

Because of its connection to the end of World War I, Veterans Day is November 11, no matter what day of the week that is. (Mostly, but we’ll get to that later.) This differs from Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, and Thanksgiving, holidays that fall on a specific day of the week, not a specific date. But this wasn’t always the case! In 1968, Congress passed the “Uniform Holidays Act,” which put Veterans Day on the fourth Monday in October. It took effect in 1971—but in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law returning it to November 11. Read about the nicest things people have done to honor veterans all year round.

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close up of american flag bunting on a windowMichellePatrickPhotographyLLC/Getty Images

It’s never on Sundays

Because many workers enjoy a day off for Veterans Day, the date of the observance can be tweaked if it falls on a weekend. Specifically, if November 11 is a Sunday, the federal holiday will generally be moved to the next day, Monday. If it’s on a Saturday, the holiday might become Friday or just remain on the Saturday. Alternatively, if it’s on a weekend, many companies will provide their employees with a “floating holiday” so that they can choose when to take the day off. We bet you didn’t know that these 31 famous people were veterans.

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American flag patch on camoflageadamkaz/Getty Images

How it differs from Memorial Day

Many people mix up Memorial Day and Veterans Day, or at least think they’re celebrating the same thing—but there’s a significant difference. Memorial Day honors Americans who have died in the line of duty; Veterans Day commemorates all Americans who have served their country honorably. Find out more about how Veterans Day and Memorial Day are different.

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African American Army Soldier Kneeling with Flower Bouquet at Gravequavondo/Getty Images

Memorial Day is older (and simultaneously newer)

Memorial Day actually dates all the way back to the Civil War. This holiday began in the 1860s as people held observances to honor those who died in the Civil War and adorn their graves with flowers. While Veterans Day was started to commemorate the end of World War I, about half a century later, it actually became a federally recognized holiday before Memorial Day did! Veterans Day (then called Armistice Day) became a federal holiday in 1938—Memorial Day didn’t until 1971.

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War memorial for the military and its fallen veteransJenniferPhotographyImaging/Getty Images

How it differs from Armed Forces Day

Do these Veterans Day facts have you wondering if there’s a holiday to celebrate current American service members—since “veterans” are technically people who’ve served in the past? Well, there is—it’s called Armed Forces Day, and it falls on the third Saturday in May, so it’s in close proximity to Memorial Day. The celebration of Women Veterans Day is also becoming increasingly popular. It falls on June 12, the anniversary of the day women were first allowed to serve as permanent members of the U.S. military. Though not a nationally recognized holiday, some states commemorate it.

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11th Airborne division troops watch an atomic explosion at close range at the AEC's testing grounds in the Las Vegas desert.Bettmann/Getty Images

There’s also an “Atomic Veterans Day”

So many veterans’ holidays! In 1983, President Reagan designated July 16 as National Atomic Veterans Day. This day specifically honored atomic veterans, or “American military service members who participated in nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, served with United States military forces in or around Hiroshima and Nagasaki through mid-1946, or were held as prisoners of war in or near Hiroshima or Nagasaki,” according to the White House. But Reagan’s designation was just for a one-time commemoration in 1983. This year, though, President Joe Biden brought back National Atomic Veterans Day, and Representative Abigail Spanberger is leading a legislative bill to make it annual.

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first graders sing the National Anthem during the Mark Twain Elementary School Veterans Day Celebration in Long Beach, Calif.MediaNews Group/Getty Images

There are week-long commemorations as well

In August 2001, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 143, designating November 11 through November 17 of that year as National Veterans Awareness Week. Unlike the more general federal holiday, the week was specifically for educational efforts for grade school students. Every year since, resolutions have passed to commemorate a week in November for such a purpose. And the person to suggest Senate Resolution 143 was…none other than then-Senator Joe Biden!

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Nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough is sworn in at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill January 27, 2021 in Washington, DC.Pool/Getty Images

There’s a Veterans Day National Committee

Since 1954, the Veterans Day National Committee has overseen Executive planning for the annual holiday. They meet in D.C. three times a year to prepare for Veterans Day. At first, the Administrator of Veterans Affairs was chair of the committee; in 1989, when Veterans Affairs became a Cabinet department, the responsibility fell to the renamed Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The current chairman is Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.

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Veterans Day Written Badge Pair Sitting on Blue BackgroundMicroStockHub/Getty Images

Its “incorrect grammar” is intentional

If you’re a grammar aficionado, you might be wondering, “Shouldn’t it be Veterans’ Day?” If it’s their day, where’s the apostrophe? Well, it actually is just Veterans Day. That might seem like a grammar error, but it isn’t. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs itself, it’s not actually “their” day but “a day for honoring all veterans” more generally. Check out our full explanation of why there’s no apostrophe in Veterans Day.

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The signing of the Mayflower Compact by passengers on board the Mayflower in November 1620. The sitters include John Carver, John Alden, Myles Standish, John Howland and William Bradford. Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899.Bettmann/Getty Images

It could’ve been…Mayflower Day?!

When it became clear that the holiday should commemorate more than just the end of World War I (because, dismayingly, it was clear that World War I would not be the “war to end all wars” that people called it), that was the catalyst for the name Veterans Day. But Dr. Francis Carr Stifler of the American Bible Society and some other advocates had a different idea for the holiday. In addition to being the day of the World War I armistice, November 11 was also the day the Mayflower Compact was signed, in 1620. Proponents of “Mayflower Day” argued that that compact was the basis for all American documents like the Bill of Rights the Declaration of Independence. But…that took the focus away from military service members, so the idea never took off.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at arlington national cemetaryCynthiaAnnF/Getty Images

Arlington National Cemetery holds a commemorative ceremony

The 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery is home to the final resting place of more than 400,000 military servicemen, women, and their families. As such, they hold an observance on Veterans Day every year at 11 a.m. (the time the World War I armistice was signed). Guards lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and veterans’ organizations hold a parade of colors. The ceremony is free and open to the public; would-be attendees are encouraged to arrive at least an hour early.

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Poppy crosses are pictured in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London, England.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Other countries celebrate different versions of it

November 11, 1918, was the end of World War I, so the United States isn’t the only nation that commemorates that date. Canada, Australia, France, and Belgium call it Remembrance Day. The United Kingdom observes Remembrance Sunday on the second Sunday of November. In the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, it’s customary to observe two minutes of silence to honor people who died in war. Interestingly, this two-minute silence tradition actually originated in South Africa—before the end of World War I. Check out these great movies to watch on Veterans Day.

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A man seated at a diner counter wearing an air force vest with a large american flag on the back.halbergman/Getty Images

Veterans eat free

Just like pretty much any other holiday, stores and businesses seize the opportunity to offer Veterans Day sales and promos. Some of them are specifically for veterans (as they should be!). Take the opportunity to take a beloved veteran in your life out for a good meal. Places like Applebee’s, Olive Garden, IHOP, and many more have promotions for veterans that you won’t want to miss. Here are 16 places where veterans can eat for free on Veterans Day.

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Low Section Of Men In Military Uniform Standing On Street During Sunny DayMichael Davis/Getty Images

Veterans don’t necessarily fight in wars

Another common misconception about Veterans Day (and veterans in general) is that all veterans have gone to war. Many members of the American military serve during peacetime, too, often with acts of service like disaster relief right here at home. Next, find out 45 things members of the U.S. military wish you knew.

Sources:

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.

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