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11/11: A day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars
Unlike Memorial Day, a day of remembrance, Veterans Day is set aside to honor all the men and women, living and dead, who have served or are serving in the U.S. military.
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PINELLAS COUNTY - At 11 a.m., on the 11th day, of the 11th month, in the year 1918, World War I ended. The next year, Nov. 11 became known as Armistice Day.

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution making the date and name official, and in 1938, Congress voted to add the date to the list of federal holidays. World War II started the next year, but Americans continued to observe Nov. 11 as Armistice Day until Congress voted to change the holiday's name to Veterans Day in 1954. That same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a Presidential Order that resulted in the creation of the Veterans Day National Committee.

This Nov. 11, the Veterans Day National Committee will host its 51st annual Veterans Day Celebration, recognizing America's 25 million living veterans. The national celebration takes place at Arlington National Cemetery.

The ceremony, always beginning at 11 a.m., will include a color guard, made up of members from each of the military services, which will accompany the President as he places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Next a bugler will play "Taps." The ceremony then will move inside the Memorial Amphitheater for the Parade of Flags.

It will be a big celebration, the Veterans Day National Committee predicts, but not nearly as big as it could be if all the nation's 25,255,288 living veterans were to attend.

According to statistics released by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 4,734,991 service personnel served in World War I. As of Aug. 16, 2004, only 200 of these veterans were living. Officials say that this could be the last year many World War I veterans will be honored on Veterans Day. Memorial Day is set aside to remember veterans who have died.

Of the 16,112,566 military personnel who served in World War II, 4,370,000 are still alive, and 3,580,000 of the 5,720,000 Korean War vets are living. Of the 9,200,000 men and women who served in the Vietnam War, 8,362,000 are still living, and 1,889,000 of the 2,322,332 service personnel who served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm are alive.

Veterans Affairs' figures estimate that 865,341 men and women are serving now or have served in the War on Terrorism, including Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 76,288 veterans left the military this year.

"It is important to our country that we remember those men and women, past and present, who fought and who currently serve to preserve our freedom and the freedom of others," Anthony J. Principi, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said in a release going out to schools across the nation.

More history of the day

According to information found on the Veterans Affairs Web site and the Veterans Day National Committee's Web site, as well as the many other Web sites devoted to the subject, the first Veterans Day parade took place in 1947 in Birmingham, Ala. In 1953, the people of Emporia, Kan. called the town's Nov. 11 celebration "Veterans Day." Soon after, a U.S. Representative from Kansas proposed legislation to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor those who served in all wars.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill officially changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day. In 1968, Congress moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October, and in 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that the holiday would be on the second Monday of November. But, because of the historical significance surrounding 11/11, Congress returned the holiday back to its original date in 1978.

Tomb of the Unknowns

For years, the national celebration of Veterans Day has included the placing of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor veterans who died in combat or after their service. On the Web site Infoplease.com, the story of this tradition is told.

The story begins in 1921, when an unknown American World War I soldier was buried in Arlington Cemetery. An unknown soldier also was buried in places of honor in England and France. A service took place at 11 a.m., on 11/11 to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.

In 1958, two more unknown American soldiers, one from the Korean War and one from World War II, were buried next to the first soldier. In 1973, it was approved to have an unknown Vietnam War veteran buried beside the others, but because of advanced DNA techniques, a soldier was not buried in the part of Arlington Cemetery known as the Tomb of the Unknowns until 1984. In 1988, the Vietnam soldier was identified and his body was moved and reburied by his family.

Nov. 11, 2004

As America is at war this Veterans Day, officials from the Department of Military Affairs and the Veterans Day National Committee are asking that all Americans take a moment from their daily routine to honor those who have served and those who now serve in this country's military services.

"Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, one the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and Let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower
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