Veterans Day, which takes place every year on November 11, honors and thanks the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. November 11 is the chosen date for Veterans Day because it marks the date in 1918 when the Armistice that ended World War I was signed. (Veterans Day is celebrated as Armistice Day in Europe.) President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the November 11th Armistice Day holiday on November 11, 1919. But it was not until 1954, at the behest of a strong Veterans lobby based in Birmingham, Alabama (see below), that Congress authorized the renaming of Armistice Day to Veterans Day and the day was given federal holiday status.
Veterans Day is a federal holiday, which means that banks and government offices will be closed. Ceremonies for Veterans Day are held in all 50 states and territories of the United States, but the main commemorations take place in the capital of Washington, DC, particularly at nearby Arlington National Cemetery. To learn more about the origins and history of Veterans Day, read Honoring All Who Served, an article by About's Guide to the U.S. Military.
Veterans Day Services in Washington, DC
Washington, DC's many war memorials make it the ideal spot for understanding the meaning of Veterans Day. Thousands flock to DC on Veterans Day each year to pay their respects at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Iwo Jima Memorial, also known as the United States Marine Corps War Memorial.
Official Washington, DC, ceremonies for Veterans Day take place at Arlington National Cemetery, the vast cemetery complex located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, ceremonies commence immediately at 11 a.m. with a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Department of Veterans Affairs organizes official ceremonies at other regional memorials throughout the country on a rotating yearly basis. Learn more about official regional observances of Veterans Day by visiting the VA website.
Other Noteworthy Veterans Day Commemorations
Every community in the United States pays respect to its war veterans on Veterans Day. But there are other places in the country beyond Washington, DC, where you may find parades or other large observances of Veterans Day.
New York City
Each year since 1929, New York City has held a large parade in honor of America's servicemen and servicewomen. The parade route runs along Fifth Avenue from 23rd Street to to 56th Street. Learn more about the New York City Veterans Day Parade.
The most populous city in Alabama, Birmingham, lays claim to the nation's oldest and largest Veterans Day parade. Veterans groups have been marching in the National Veterans Day Parade since 1945. (Note that while the NYC parade has been ongoing since 1929, it was in honor of Armistice Day at its inception.)
The balmier weather in Phoenix means that the city's Veterans Day commemorations often include picnics and firework shows. Phoenix also hosts a large Veterans Day parade each November 11. Learn more about Veterans Day in Phoenix and the surrounding area.
There are a number of U.S. National Parks where Veterans Day ceremonies are particularly poignant. Gettysburg National Military Park located in Pennsylvania, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in California, and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Hawaii are three national parks where you will find official Veterans Day ceremonies.
Note that fees for all U.S. National Parks will be waived on Veterans Day Weekend in 2011.