Veterans Day

United States #905 (1942)

United States #905 (1942)

Veterans Day is an official United States public holiday, observed annually on November 11, that honors military veterans, that is, persons who served in the United States Armed Forces. It coincides with other holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I; major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The United States previously observed Armistice Day. The U.S. holiday was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service.

On November 11, 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to his countrymen on the first Armistice Day in which he expressed what he felt the day meant to Americans:

ADDRESS TO FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN The White House, November 11, 1919. A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of inter national relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half. – With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we re modeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with – solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

The United States Congress adopted a resolution on June 4, 1926, requesting that President Calvin Coolidge issue annual proclamations calling for the observance of November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. A Congressional Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday: “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”

In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks led a delegation to General Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of National Veterans Day. Weeks led the first national celebration in 1947 in Alabama and annually until his death in 1985. President Reagan honored Weeks at the White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 as the driving force for the national holiday. Elizabeth Dole, who prepared the briefing for President Reagan, determined Weeks as the “Father of Veterans Day.”

U.S. Representative Ed Rees from Emporia, Kansas, presented a bill establishing the holiday through Congress. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also from Kansas, signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954. It had been eight and a half years since Weeks held his first Armistice Day celebration for all veterans. Congress amended the bill on June 1, 1954, replacing “Armistice” with “Veterans,” and it has been known as Veterans Day since.

The National Veterans Award was also created in 1954. Congressman Rees of Kansas received the first National Veterans Award in Birmingham, Alabama for his support offering legislation to make Veterans Day a federal holiday.

Although originally scheduled for celebration on November 11 of every year, starting in 1971 in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October (Oct 25, 1971; Oct 23, 1972; Oct 22, 1973; Oct 28, 1974; Oct 27, 1975; Oct 25, 1976 and Oct 24, 1977). In 1978, it was moved back to its original celebration on November 11. While the legal holiday remains on November 11, if that date happens to be on a Saturday or Sunday, then organizations that formally observe the holiday will normally be closed on the adjacent Friday or Monday, respectively.

Because it is a federal holiday, some American workers and many students have Veterans Day off from work or school. When Veterans Day falls on a Saturday then either Saturday or the preceding Friday may be designated as the holiday, whereas if it falls on a Sunday it is typically observed on the following Monday. Non-essential federal government offices are closed. No mail is delivered. All federal workers are paid for the holiday; those who are required to work on the holiday sometimes receive holiday pay for that day in addition to their wages.

In his Armistice Day address to Congress, Wilson was sensitive to the psychological toll of the lean War years: “Hunger does not breed reform; it breeds madness,” he remarked. As Veterans Day and the birthday of the United States Marine Corps (November 10, 1775) are only one day apart, that branch of the Armed Forces customarily observes both occasions as a 96-hour liberty period.

Several commentators have noted the irony of Election Day being a regular working day, while veterans day, which typically falls the following week, is a federal holiday. Many have called for the holidays to be merged, so citizens can have a day off to vote. This would be seen as a way to honor voting by exercising our democratic rights.

Scott #905 was released on July 4, 1942, in Washington, DC, one of only three stamps issued by the United States that year. The 3 cent violet “Win The War” stamp was issued to bolster American support of the war effort. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Americans rallied together, ready to prove to Japan, Germany, and the rest of the world, how strong their resolve was to defend their home. The day after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

It was not long before Americans around the country began writing the Post Office Department and the White House requesting stamps representing America’s dedication to winning the war. The selected design for the stamp was based on a poster by artist Mark O’Dea picturing the American eagle. ts central design features the American eagle with wings spread in a “V” for victory, encircled by thirteen stars. When he received the early designs, President Roosevelt liked the stamp, but suggested that the eagle have very little engraving, to make it stand out from the background.

Surprisingly, when the stamp was issued, it received such negative criticism, many speculated it would be removed from sale and reissued. The problem with the design lay in the direction of the eagle’s gaze and arrows. Historically, depictions of the American eagle in wartime pictured the eagle facing the same direction his arrows pointed, so that both the eagle and weapons are directed toward their objectives. Some have speculated that President Roosevelt realized this, and deliberately accepted the printed design, so that the weapons point toward the enemy while the eagle looks the other way, toward peace. Notice also that the eagle is not grasping the traditional olive branch of peace.

Despite criticisms over the design, the Win the War stamp was one of the most commonly used 3¢ stamps during the war, and was often sent on mail to U.S. soldiers fighting overseas. Some 20,642,793,310 copies of the stamp were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the rotary press, bearing a perforation gauge of 11×10½.

President Franklin Roosevelt was instrumental in the design and issuance of Scott #905. Introduced to stamp collecting at a young age by his mother, Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned to his collection throughout his life to relax and unwind.  Elected President four times, Roosevelt served in the nation’s highest office longer than any other chief executive — 12 years. During those 12 years, Roosevelt shared his love of stamps with the nation, personally approving each of more than 200 stamp designs. He suggested topics, rejected others, and even designed some himself. It was his aim to use stamps not just to send mail but also to educate Americans about our history. And as he reluctantly entered America into World War II, he saw these stamps as an outlet to raise spirits and bring hope.

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