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On Saturday, November 11, Americans will celebrate Veterans Day. The federal holiday pays tribute to the brave men and women of the United States armed forces who risk their lives daily to protect our freedom. This includes everyone who has served in the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard, Air Force and the Coast Guard.

Formerly called Armistice Day, the 98-year-old tradition began on November 11, 1919 when US President Woodrow Wilson set aside the day to honor the soldiers who had fought in World War I. The date was chosen because it was at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918 that the Allied Nations and Germany called a ceasefire, or Armistice, which ultimately ended the four-year, three months long “Great War.” In 1954, US officials changed the name to Veterans Day to include the men and women who had fought in World War II (September 1, 1939 — Sept 2, 1945) and the Korean War (June 25, 1950 — July 27, 1953).

Veterans Day 2016 in Kaneohe, Hawaii (Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Todd Kabalan Air Force)

To enable Americans to enjoy a three-day weekend, on June 28, 1968, the US Congress passed a bill that moved Washington’s birthday (Feb 22), Memorial Day (May 30) and Veterans Day (November 11) to a predetermined Monday. While Americans did not mind the change on the first two holidays, most were not happy to celebrate Veterans Day on a floating date, due to the historical significance attached to November 11. In 1975, President Gerald Ford gave in to the public’s demands and starting, 1978, Veterans Day was once again celebrated on November 11.

When Wilson first established the holiday, he asked Americans to celebrate it with parades and urged businesses to allow workers a few minutes to honor veterans at 11:00 am. While these traditions are still very much a part of the celebrations, many restaurants and businesses have also joined in to honor retired military personnel by offering free meals and exclusive discounts.

Veterans Celebration Ceremony to honor World War II veterans in San Antonio (Photo Credit: Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer

The US is not the only country that observes the holiday. It is also celebrated in the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, Malta, and South Africa. While each nation has its own unique tradition, the purpose is the same — to thank the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect others.

Given that Memorial Day and Veterans Day both honor our military personnel, many Americans think they serve the same purpose. However, the two holidays are very different. Memorial Day, which is celebrated on the last Monday in May, pays tribute to soldiers that have lost their lives or sustained a wound during a war. Veterans Day, on the other hand, recognizes all military personnel, both living and dead. Its primary purpose, however, is to give thanks to living veterans. So this Saturday, seek out one of these brave men and women who risked their lives to make yours better, and honor them with a kind deed or two.

Thank You For Your Service Veterans!