Veterans Day has a long and storied history, beginning in the U.S. in recognition of the conclusion of World War I. “The Great War” formally ended on June 28, 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. However, fighting had actually ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—November 11, 1918. Thus, November 11th is generally regarded as the end of the “war to end all wars,” and it was called Armistice Day. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as the first Armistice Day in the United States, intending to honor veterans of World War I: parades, public gatherings and a brief suspension of business activities at 11 a.m. were the means of recognizing a national debt to our veterans. In 1938, Congress passed an act officially making November 11th a legal holiday, still named Armistice Day. The primary intent was still to honor the veterans of World War I.
After World War II and the Korean War, it became evident that the country needed a day to recognize the service of all U.S. veterans, not just those who served in World War I. Therefore, in 1954, under the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Congress amended the 1938 act and renamed the holiday from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.” In the expediency of the modern age, the Uniform Holiday Bill, signed into law in 1968, sought to provide more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers by moving the celebration of certain holidays to Mondays. As a result, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. The first observance of the new date was in 1971. However, this change was met with confusion and was unpopular in many states. In response to the widespread desire to keep the observance on November 11th, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law in 1975, returning Veterans Day to its original date, effective in 1978.
Today, Veterans Day is observed on November 11th, regardless of which day of the week it falls. It is a time for Americans to reflect on the importance and sacrifice of military veterans and to express their gratitude for their service.
Universities have an important role in helping prepare military leaders for service to our nation so they might become veterans. Structured development of the mind and body equips students with a comprehensive skill set for military service. In addition, military leadership often requires knowledge from diverse disciplines, including history, literature, engineering, medicine, computer science and a host of other disciplines that provide a broad-based experience necessary for effective military leadership.
So important is this relationship between being an educated human being and an effective military leader; quoting from a reflection on November 17, 2018, “In 1783, New York Governor George Clinton, proposed that in every state at least one public college should train people for entry into military service. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act that said, in part …the maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life…”
The nineteenth-century British military leader Sir William Francis Butler supported the views of both Clinton and Lincoln. He opined, “The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
Appreciation for veterans is cross-cultural. Many Western European nations, The École Militaire, for example, was founded in 1751 to educate officers for the French army. South Korea, due to its unique geopolitical situation with North Korea, has a strong emphasis on military service and preparation. While not exactly university-based, all able-bodied men are required to complete about two years of military service, usually during or shortly after their university studies. Israel provides another example of the marriage of being prepared for life provided through universities to individual and national well-being through a combination of military and university experience.
Veterans and their service for the national betterment represents a fundamental trait of individuals in human organizations, sometimes called patriotism, regardless of the unique culture and values of any particular society. Protecting, caring and sacrificing for others is so deeply embedded in the healthy human psyche that we should never let that recognition pass. Many religious texts support the simple concept of “loving others as you love yourself.” A veteran’s service and a sound education provide the bedrock for a free society. That links Veterans Day and its purpose to the mission of West Texas A&M University.
I appreciate the service of so many, for so many, in shaping our nation’s future.
Walter V. Wendler, President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns, with hyperlinks, are available at https://walterwendler.com/.