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Editorial: Remembering Armistice Day and all veterans

World War I officially ended when the Allies and Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. That centennial is still eight months away.

Fighting had ceased seven months earlier, however, when an armistice — a temporary cessation of hostilities — went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Namely, Nov. 11, 1918. Blessedly, that armistice held and today that's when we consider the end of what was known then as "The Great War."

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919, the first observation of Armistice Day. He said, "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 the nations."

The concept was that communities across the country would have prayers, speeches and observe a brief suspension of business at 11 a.m.

Not until May 1938 did recognition of "the war to end all wars" become a federal holiday. Ironically, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia four months later.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former World War II five-star general, signed the bill changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954. The Uniform Holiday Act of 1968 guaranteed three-day weekends by declaring Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day observances always would be Mondays. To the relief of veterans, President Gerald Ford signed a law in 1978 making the Veterans Day Nov. 11 no matter what.

This year, as happened last year, the nation essentially will have two Veterans Days: Sunday, Nov. 11, and Monday, Nov. 12, when governments close to observe the holiday.

Given that soldiers across Europe and North America couldn't know for certain if the armistice would hold a single day, our having two days 100 years later to reflect on their sacrifices seems especially fitting. You could say we're celebrating both Armistice Day and Veterans Day.

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