I know, I know. We did the thing this week, and to call the United States of America weird right now would be an understatement. Still, no matter your politics, today is a day for reflection. It's Veterans Day, the federal holiday devoted to men and women who serve in our military, honoring their sacrifice and courage in face of conflict around the world. Here's everything you need to know about why you probably have a day off, or can at least enjoy some Veterans Day freebies here and there.
Why was it created?
President Woodrow Wilson first introduced "Armistice Day" to commemorate the end of World War I on November 11, 1919. "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," he wrote in a statement, continuing, "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 nations."
Congress formalized it as an annual observance in 1926, and by 1938 it had become a federal holiday. Following World War II, the first "Veterans Day" celebration to honor all veterans -- not just those who fought in World War I -- was held in Birmingham, Alabama, and was the brainchild of World War I vet Raymond Weeks. Congress officially renamed November 11th "Veterans Day" in 1954. The date changed to the fourth Monday in October for several years in the wake of the Vietnam War, but Congress changed it back to November 11 in 1978 -- that's why you have Friday off this year and not some other day.
It's important because veterans face serious issues
With increased rates of PTSD, depression, homelessness, and suicide, veterans today are one of America's most at-risk groups. For many, reintegrating them into civilian life can be an arduous task, and most Americans go about their daily lives in ignorance of it. As Desmin Borges, who plays a veteran on FX show You're the Worst told Vulture: "I found out that a couple of my really close friends' dads who fought in previous wars have PTSD, and I've known them for like 18 years and I had no idea."
It's not just the veterans themselves who need a hand, either, but their families, too. No matter what we disagree on as a country, no one believes the children of veterans and military personnel should be left behind.
How can I help veterans?
At the most basic level, empathy is a great start. Go to a Veterans Day parade. Talk to people and listen. Volunteer or donate to one of the many non-profit organizations and charities devoted to helping veterans. Note that some are more scrupulous than others, so do your research and ask questions.