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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 city of Washington, D. C. and the Potomac River became a place of reverence for America's veterans.

Earlier ceremonies occurred in England's Westminster Abbey and France's Arc de Triomphe, where an unknown soldier was buried in the highest place of honor . These memorial gceremonies all took place on November 11, giving 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 became official in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holidiay in 1938 by a similar action. If the 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 later, 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.

 

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Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of WW II and Korea, Congress was requested to change this day 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 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 celebration 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.

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Official national ceremonies for Veterans Day continue to be the memorial amphitheater at 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 and a bugler plays "taps."

 

 

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May 28, 2005
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