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Why was Armistice Day renamed Veterans Day?

The world was irrevocably changed by World War I, which was supposed to end all wars. By the time the guns fell silent in November 1918, millions were dead, empires had fallen and the course for the rest of the 20th century had been charted.

For years afterward, the United States celebrated Armistice Day on Nov. 11 to mark the end of the war. Then in 1954, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day to commemorate veterans of all wars.

The reason for the move has been called into question recently by an author who wrote a guest column in Stars and Stripes this Veterans Day. As a part-time historical detective, The Rumor Doctor could not resist investigating.

Congress voted to change the name to Veterans Day in June 1954 and President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued  a proclamation that October acknowledging that the United States had been engaged in two wars since Armistice Day was first observed.

But in his column “What we lost when Armistice Day ended,” Jack Woodville London wrote that the change was also politically motivated.

The term “armistice” was too closely associated with armistice that ended the Korean War without a clear victory, prompting the holiday to be renamed Veterans Day, argued London, a novelist who writes historical fiction.

“Within weeks of the Korean armistice, a Kansas shoe repairman lobbied his congressman to change Armistice Day,” London wrote. “In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day.”

Like a basset hound who caught a scent, The Rumor Doctor went looking for any evidence that might support London’s theory. The first stop was the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

However, Eisenhower never weighed in on the matter. An archivist at the museum did not find the change to Veterans Day mentioned in any of Eisenhower’s correspondence, nor did he mention the subject in his memoirs.

The gentleman from Kansas whom London mentioned was Alvin King, of Emporia, who worked with his congressman, who introduced the bill that ultimately renamed the holiday.

King had helped to raise his nephew, who was killed during the Battle of the Bulge, said Lawrence Eugene Crisp, King’s great-nephew.

“He was so disturbed by the fact that my uncle got killed that Great-Uncle Al King thought that people should be honoring all veterans,” said Crisp, who served in the Air Force between 1960 and 1964.

In fact, King had been working on getting the name changed before 1954, Crisp said. The end of the Korean War had nothing to do with his efforts.

Even before King, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks was working to change the name of Armistice Day. Weeks, of Birmingham, Ala., sent a petition to then-General Eisenhower in 1945 urging the holiday’s name be changed to honor all veterans.

His efforts led Birmingham to celebrate National Veterans Day in 1947, the first time the term Veterans Day was used referring to Nov. 11, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

When President Ronald Reagan awarded Weeks the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1982, he called him “the driving force behind the congressional action which in 1954 established this special holiday as a day to honor all American veterans.”

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: The Rumor Doctor cannot find any evidence that shows a direct connection between the end of the Korean War and the decision to change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. The public record suggests the name was changed because World War I did not end all wars.

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