Friday, November 09, 2012

Veterans Day: Born in Birmingham


As we approach Veterans Day this year (November 11, 2012, but observed on November 12), I’d like to offer a little bit of history about the very important role Birmingham and one man, in particular, played in the holiday’s establishment.

First observed in 1919 to honor the soldiers and sailors of World War I, the “War to end all wars,” the day was originally called Armistice Day. It was named after the cessation of hostilities with Germany which went into effect on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 am. Armistice Day soon became a very important day for the City of Birmingham. The annual parade was a source of great pride for Birmingham and came to be known as the largest Armistice Day parade in the nation. The following decades saw Birmingham putting on parades that were seen by as many as 250,000 spectators (1949), included 20,000 participants (1926), and lasted up to two hours and covered 40 city blocks (1950).

In the years after World War II, the director of Birmingham’s Armistice Day celebrations was a man named Raymond W. Weeks. Weeks was a veteran of the Second World War and felt strongly that the day should be changed to honor veterans of all military conflicts, not just World War I. As he was building up Birmingham’s Armistice Day celebrations, he was also lobbying in Washington, D.C. to get the holiday officially changed to Veterans Day (a term he had been using since 1947). His cause was taken up by Representative Edward Rees of Kansas. Rees introduced legislation making the change which was signed into law by President Eisenhower on June 1, 1954.

President Reagan presents Citizens Medal to Raymond Weeks
The Birmingham News, November 10, 1982
Weeks continued to be in charge of Veterans Day activities in Birmingham until his death in 1985. In 1982, he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Ronald Reagan in recognition of his hard work and dedication to our country’s veterans. On September 20, 2012, a resolution was introduced to the House of Representatives recognizing Weeks and Birmingham for their roles in this historic day. Information about Birmingham’s 2012 Veterans Day events can be found on the site of the group, the National Veterans Day in Birmingham.

For additional information about the history of Veterans Day in Birmingham, the Southern History Department has newspaper clippings and other interesting items available on microfiche for patrons to view.

M.B. Newbill
Southern History
Central Library

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