All across the country today, Americans commemorate Veterans Day with parades, wreath-laying ceremonies at war memorials and veterans cemeteries, religious services and even breakfasts for veterans hosted by American Legion posts and local high schools.
“The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month has a significant meaning,” said Bill Gillespie, Jr., mayor of Prattville, Ala., about the importance of the wreath-laying ceremony at the Autauga County courthouse today. “It means little to some, very much to others. The three 11s are a mental marker to help us remember Nov. 11, 1918, the end of the war to end all wars.”
Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, first commemorated in November 1919 to honor those who died in World War I. Now it honors veterans of all wars.
Birmingham, Ala., will host its annual Veterans Day parade, considered the oldest such event in the country. In 1947, Birmingham native Raymond Weeks helped persuade then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to create a national holiday that honored all veterans. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation formally establishing Nov. 11as Veterans Day.
The recent government shutdown caused some concern among parade organizers about some Alabama National Guard units’ participating.
“You never know how many military units are going to be involved,” said Mark Ryan, president of National Veterans Day in Birmingham. “There is generally a great deal of military involvement in the parade.”
Many colleges and universities around the country are experiencing increasing enrollment by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, giving a heightened significance to Veterans Day celebrations on campus.
There are currently 908 registered student veterans and veteran dependents on the campus of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, which is one of the 85 colleges nationwide participating in the National Day of Remembrance and Roll Call. The event began in 2011 to honor and recognize the sacrifice of veterans through the simultaneous reading of the names of those who died in military operations since Sept. 11, 2001. This year, 6,769 names will be read.
“Participating in the National Roll Call is an opportunity for the campus community to publicly express our appreciation for servicemen and women who have made the greatest sacrifice for our country,” said Ashley Blamey, chair of the Task Force in Support of Student Veterans.
The many monuments and memorials around Washington, D.C., all feature ceremonies today, but the premier event is the annual wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, followed by an observance program in the Memorial Amphitheater.