“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” – Czeslaw Milosz
First celebrated as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I, our current “Veterans Day” is due to the efforts of Alvin King of Emporia, KS, who thought the day shouldn’t just honor the end of the first great war but should, instead, honor all U.S. veterans for their sacrifice and service and to remember their stories.
He was particularly moved to do something after his nephew died during World War II. King’s idea caught fire in Emporia, which on Nov. 11, 1953, observed "Veterans" Day while the rest of the country still celebrated Armistice Day. U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, supported King’s idea and introduced a bill in Congress to officially change the name. It was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who also grew up in Kansas.
All of the United States joined in celebrating that first national Veterans Day on Nov. 11, 1954. When King died in 1960, he was buried in the one and only suit he owned and had worn to that White House signing ceremony. In 2003, Congress adopted a resolution declaring Emporia “The founding city of Veterans Day” and recognizing King as the Day’s founder.
Shortly after King’s death newly elected President John F. Kennedy, also a WWII veteran, shared these words on Veterans Day. "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
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