by Susan Zehnder, Education Director
With Veterans Day coming up, it’s a good time to think about how we can teach children why November 11th is a special day. It’s also a great time to ask yourself how much you really know about how this holiday was created and how it has evolved over the years.
|Teacher John Liquori and his first grade class|
Elmira City School District elementary teacher John Liquori is taking a new approach this year to teach students about Veterans Day. He is taking advantage of Fassett's physical location in the community by connecting students to nearby organizations. With the help of area veterans and community members, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial War Museum, the John W. Jones Museum, and the Chemung County Historical Society, he arranged a special program for Fassett’s nearly 100 first graders.
On Monday November 8th, students will spend two hours rotating through 5 different stations to build their understanding of what Veterans Day is all about. They'll meet local veterans, learn about the Vietnam War Memorial Museum, hear about care and treatment of the American flag, see uniform medals from local veterans who served in different military branches, and learn about an important contribution Elmiran John W. Jones made for veterans during the American Civil War.
For others, here’s a quick refresher course on Veterans Day. It began in 1919, when November 11th was known as Armistice Day (an armistice is an agreement by opposing sides to stop fighting). The armistice for World War I took place on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, making the date of November 11th historically significant. At first, celebrations commemorating the soldiers were community driven. The day was officially recognized in 1926 by congress and became a national holiday in 1938.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a veteran himself, decided that November 11th would be the country’s official day to recognize all military veterans’ service and sacrifice. He renamed the day Veterans Day and issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation:
In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.
Veterans Day would continue to honor those who fought in WWI, and would now include veterans who served in other wars. It would pay tribute to all American veterans, both living and dead. It would recognize and honor those who served their country with honor during wartime or in peace.
The original idea was for citizens to observe the day with parades, public speeches, and meetings. Businesses were asked to pause for 2 minutes of silence and reflection at 11:00 am. In Chemung County, in anticipation of the first Veterans Day, the Star-Gazette published this quiz:
|(See answers below.)|
The 10 questions show how closely the new Veterans Day was initially tied with WWI’s Armistice Day.
In 1968, congress shifted the day to the fourth Monday of every October. The intention was to create more three-day weekends for federal employees and to promote travel, cultural activities, recreation, and commerce. What it mainly did was confuse people. Many states didn’t comply with the change and stuck to celebrating on November 11th.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford, who was also a veteran, returned the official recognition date to November 11th to realign it with the original importance of the date.
Today, many organizations around the nation hold Veterans Day observances, and volunteers refresh grave sites of military personnel, adorning them with new flags. In 2021 there are approximately 19 million living US veterans. Gone are the country’s WWI veterans, and dwindling are the numbers for WWII vets still alive, hovering somewhere around 240,000.
The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 preserved the historical significance of the date, and turned the lens to the day’s important purpose. Teaching new generations that it is a day to celebrate and honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good, carries on that significance.
|Thank You Wreath created for Veterans by Liquori's class|
|November 10, 1954 Star-Gazette|