Honoring Those Who Served: The Origins of Veterans Day

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Paul Wayland Bartlett (American, 1865-1925), Eagle of Preparedness, 1916. Bronze. 13 x 4 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. Collection of Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Mrs. Armistead Peter III 1958.37
Paul Wayland Bartlett (American, 1865-1925), Eagle of Preparedness, 1916. Bronze. 13 x 4 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. Collection of Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Mrs. Armistead Peter III 1958.37.

On May 7, 1915, during the First World War, a German U-Boat torpedoed the British luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing 1,198 of its 1,959 passengers. The attack on the civilian vessel prompted international outrage, causing officially neutral nations, such as the United States, to turn against Germany.

This sculpture, Eagle of Preparedness, is artist Paul Wayland Bartlett’s response to the event, warning that America should prepare its military for imminent war. Bartlett was right. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany. On November 11, 1918, after a year and a half of fighting and the deaths of nearly 117,000 American soldiers, the Allied powers signed a peace agreement or armistice with Germany bringing the bloody conflict to an end. In the following years, America observed Armistice Day—November 11—to remember those who had died in the war, but in 1945, Raymond Weeks, a WWII veteran from Birmingham, Alabama, had the idea to use the day to celebrate all American veterans. Congress agreed, and in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill into law officially designating Armistice Day as Veterans Day.

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In 1945, Raymond Weeks, a WWII veteran from Birmingham, Alabama, had the idea to use the day to celebrate all American veterans. Congress agreed, and in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill into law officially designating Armistice Day as Veterans Day. This marker in Birmingham’s Linn Park reads “A grateful nation remembers Raymond Weeks, founder and director of National Veterans Day, dedicated November 11, 1989.”