VFW Americanism

THE ORIGINS OF VETERANS DAY

Also see the Veterans Day Poster Gallery

and  The True Story of "Taps"

Suggested Community Program - Veterans Day 

What is the meaning of the folds in a flag-folding ceremony?

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In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, became the focal point of reverence for America's veterans.

Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation's highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as "Armistice Day".

Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holidiay 12 years later by similar Congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was "the War to end all Wars," November 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. Sixteen and one-half million Americans took part. Four hundred seven thousand of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle.

Armistice Day Changed To Honor All Veterans

Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of WW II and Korea, Congress was requested to make this day an occasion to honor those who have served America in all wars. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.

On Memorial Day 1958, two more unidentified American war dead were brought from overseas and interred in the plaza beside the unknown soldier of World War I. One was killed in World War II, the other in the Korean War. In 1973, a law passed providing interment of an unknown American from the Vietnam War, but none was found for several years. In 1984, an unknown serviceman from that conflict was placed alongside the others. To honor these men, symbolic of all Americans who gave their lives in all wars, an Army honor guard, The 3d U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), keeps day and night vigil.

A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.

National Ceremonies Held at Arlington

The focal point for official, national ceremonies for Veterans Day continues to be the memorial amphitheater built around the Tomb of the Unknowns. At 11 a.m. on November 11, a combined color guard representing all military services executes "Present Arms" at the tomb. The nation's tribute to its war dead is symbolized by the laying of a presidential wreath. The bugler plays "taps." The rest of the ceremony takes place in the amphitheater.

Every year the President of the United States urges All Americans to honor the commitment of our Veterans through appropriate public ceremonies.

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SUGGESTED COMMUNITY PROGRAM
VETERANS DAY - MEMORIAL DAY

Veterans Day and Memorial Day activities afford schools and the community an excellent opportunity to develop and produce a variety of cooperative programs. Participation by various veterans and service organizations can play a vital role in the projects suggested in this guide. Use the information handout about Veterans Day and Memorial Day and distribute to attendees at your program.

Indoor Ceremony
Depending on the facilities available, an indoor assembly program can provide a most meaningful tribute to Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The scope of such a program may be large enough to permit invitations to the community at large. The following ceremony outline represents a typical one-hour program:

Prelude and Posting of Colors
As the audience enters to be seated, a school or community musical organization may offer several appropriate selections. A procession and posting of colors is always a stirring event. Local veterans service organizations often participate in such programs with their impressive array of banners and flags.

Prayer
Selected verse by local clergy member.

Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and National Anthem
The program chairman, school principal or student body president should invite the audience to stand and join in the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the National Anthem.

Introductory Remarks
The tone for the program may be set by appropriate introductory remarks lasting several minutes. The Mayor's Proclamation may be incorporated.

Special Musical Selection
A band or choral group should offer one of the more impressive patriotic selections available. This affords an opportunity for the musical organization to exhibit its talents in a most stirring and dramatic manner.

Introduction of Guests
Dignitaries selected as special guests may include local government officials, school alumni with distinguished military service, veterans from the community who represent different periods of service and faculty members who are veterans.

Principal Speaker
Your principal speaker should be invited far enough in advance to allow adequate preparation for your program.

Student Essay or Reading
In school programs, student body participation may be underscored by inclusion in the program of various presentations by individual students. Selected essays from school-wide competition may be offered by the student-author. The winner of the VFW Voice of Democracy Program or the VFW Junior High Essay Program are excellent choices. A reading of a well-known patriotic address by an American President or famous military hero by a talented student can be effective. There are a number of published musical/narratives which could add greatly to your program.

Moment of Silence - Taps ( The True Story of "Taps"
While Veterans Day is typically a tribute to America's living veterans and active military, Memorial Day is a time to remember our fallen veteran. It is appropriate to include a moment of respect for those who gave their lives for their country. A moment of silence is appropriate at any point in the program. This may be followed by an instrumental or vocal rendition of "Taps."

Closing
Accompanied by appropriate music, assembled colors should be retired, following which the audience may file out.



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