Teaching Students About Veterans Day
How do you honor someone who went to war so that you wouldn’t have to?
On November 11, Americans celebrate Veterans Day to honor those who have served in the US Armed Forces. Educators can foster an appreciation for service members by teaching students about Veterans Day and why we celebrate it.
The History of Veterans Day
After four years of bitter conflict, all fighting in World War I ended on November 11, 1918, when Germany signed an armistice agreement — a truce — with the Allies at Le Francport in France. Although “the war to end all wars” officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, many people considered the signing of the armistice as the start of a long-awaited peace.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day with the following words:
“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.”
Americans observed the first Armistice Day with parades, public gatherings, and a brief pause in business and school activities at 11 a.m. — the hour the armistice was signed.
Congress made Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938, but Americans soon found themselves in yet another world war after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
After the Second World War ended in 1945, veterans’ service organizations lobbied for Armistice Day to be changed to Veterans Day. The idea made sense since World War II involved a far greater mobilization of the country’s resources than World War I, and in the end, nearly four times as many Americans lost their lives in the conflict.
Nine years later, President Eisenhower signed Veterans Day into law on June 1, 1954.
What’s the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
While Memorial Day (the fourth Monday in May) honors those who have died in battle, Veterans Day celebrates all former military personnel — living or dead — who served during war or peacetime.
How to Celebrate Veterans Day with Your Students
Observe a Moment of Silence
In Europe, many people observe two minutes of silence on November 11 at 11 a.m. to commemorate the end of WWI. You can try doing this with your students after explaining why people do this as a sign of respect.
Write Letters to Soldiers
Your students can write encouraging letters to people serving in the armed forces. Send their letters to organizations such as Operation Gratitude and Soldiers’ Angels, making sure students follow the organization’s guidelines.
Watch Primary Source Videos
Studies Weekly online has many videos you can use to foster an appreciation for service members, including first-hand accounts from Vietnam, Iraq, and WWII veterans.
This video summarizes the history of Veterans Day and its purpose in honoring those who served in the armed forces.
Show this video to teach students who veterans are and why we dedicate a whole day to honoring them.
Jean Koehler shares what it was like to serve as a Women’s Air Force Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II.
Vincent Morrison talks about the struggles he faced as a Vietnam War veteran after returning home.
Iraq War veteran, Tara Thompson, explains how war in real life is different from how we see it in the movies.
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