Veterans Day - 100 years of honoring our veterans

The Leavenworth Veterans Day Parade was one of the first in the nation.
It's still marching strong.

By Leigh Elmore

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first observance of the national holiday now known as Veterans Day – November 11. Probably there is no other community in the United States that takes Veterans Day as seriously as the First City of Kansas – Leavenworth. In fact, the city of Leavenworth has set aside four days, Nov. 8-11, to honor veterans of America's military forces, with the 100th annual Veterans Day Parade stepping off at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 11.

Paying respects to veterans at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City.

The 2019 Leavenworth Veterans Day Parade is open to public participation. This year's theme is "100 Years of Honoring Our Veterans." Downtown historic Leavenworth will be filled with a patriotic public paying tribute to veterans and their sacrifices. Leavenworth is selected annually as a regional site for the Veterans Day observance by the National Veterans Day Committee in Washington, D.C. The Parade draws 12,000 to 15,000 spectators annually not only from the surrounding region, but from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota as well. After the parade, there will be open houses at American Legion Posts 23 and 94 and VFW Post 56. All are open to the public.

For details about participating in the parade and for a complete schedule of activities in Leavenworth, Nov. 8-11, go to the website,

An American Legion float at the Leavenworth Veterans Day parade in 2011. (photos courtesy Leavenworth Veterans Day Parade committee)


Armistice Day came first

It all started out rather impulsively as news of the cessation of hostilities reached the town in November 1918:

The Leavenworth Times first received word of the Allies and Central Powers signing the Armistice at 4 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918. Then all of a sudden, a bedlam of whistles, bells and shots ruined all thought of sleep in Leavenworth and the wildest celebration in the city ever has known was underway.

Leavenworth Mayor John C. Seitz declared a holiday as soon as he received word of the Armistice and by noon every business housed in the city was closed and all employees were parading in the streets, shouting, blowing horns, screaming, throwing confetti and otherwise giving vent to the emotion brought on by the word of "world peace."

On Nov. 12, 1918 The Leavenworth Times reported, "Leavenworth went wild." Following the flash of glorious peace news and victory to Allied arms that arrived early yesterday morning, crowds of screaming, noise making, confetti-throwing, and gloriously happy people representing all ages from small children to gray-haired men and aged women, thronged the downtown streets from early in the morning until midnight. Never before in the history of the town has such a celebration been held, for everyone was thinking of a son, brother or other relative 'over there' whose task was finished and soon would be starting back."

President Woodrow W. Wilson's proclamation stated:
"The armistice was signed this morning. Everything which America has fought for has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by sober, friendly counsel and by material aid in the establishment of democracy throughout the world."

Celebrations of the end of war soon turned solemn, in remembrance of all who were lost. Armistice Day, officially recognized by President Wilson in 1919, began to be observed throughout the world, honoring those who brought about the end of the "Great War." Armistice Day was first commemorated nationally by President Wilson in 1919, and many states made it a legal holiday.
On Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1919, the headlines in the Times read: "Business Will Be Suspended In City Today, All To Join In The Welcome Home Celebration". What resulted marked the start of the nation's oldest Veterans Day observance, the Leavenworth County Veterans Day Parade.

A color guard of active duty soldiers from Ft. Leavenworth.

The first parade and observance was on Nov. 11, 1919, organized by Leavenworth business owner William Small of the William Small and Company Dry Goods. All businesses including banks were closed, as well as all public schools. All downtown store front windows displayed patriotic themes and were kept covered until 11 a.m. when they were unveiled and judged. The Hines Band gave a concert at Fourth and Delaware Streets, community singing, and athletic contests took place until 2:20 p.m., when the automobiles and civic organizations began a parade from the court house.

All major hostilities of World War 1 were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 inviting all Americans to observe the day and made it a legal holiday nationwide in 1938. The holiday has been observed annually on Nov. 11 since that date – first as Armistice Day, later as Veterans Day – except for a brief period when it was celebrated on the fourth Monday of October.

America's action soon took on a worldwide flavor as Nov. 11 began to be observed throughout the world, honoring those who brought about the end of the "Great War."


Sons of the American Revolution show the colors.

Taking on added meaning

Armistice Day continued to be an important part of national identity and global memory, even as the world entered another war in 1939. In the aftermath of World War II, the day took on additional meaning. British Commonwealth countries adopted the name "Remembrance Day" or "Remembrance Sunday," commemorating all soldiers who died, not just those of World War I.

On Nov. 11, 1953, the citizens of Emporia, KS staged a Veterans Day observance in lieu of an Armistice Day remembrance. Representative Ed Rees of Emporia subsequently introduced legislation into the House of Representatives to officially change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Following a letter-writing campaign to secure the support of all state governors in the observance of this new holiday, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day (enacted June 1, 1954), to honor those who served in all American wars.

In 1954, after the return of service personnel from both World War II and the Korean War, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill rededicating Nov. 11 as Veterans Day, encouraging Americans to commit themselves to the cause of peace and to honor America's veterans for their courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice.

The day has since evolved as a time for honoring living veterans who have served in the military during wartime or peacetime, partially to complement Memorial Day, which primarily honors the dead. There has been some discussion of whether a person's veteran status depends upon his/her retirement or discharge from any of the armed forces. However, the term applies to any that have honorably served their country or that have served in a war zone as directed by their superior officers or as directed by lawful orders given by their country.

The Liberty Memorial is the most prominant World War I monument in the country.
(photo courtesy National WWI museum)

The Liberty Memorial rises

Nov. 11 has always been an important date in the region, not just in Leavenworth, because the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City was originally dedicated on Armistice Day in 1926, with U.S. President Calvin Coolidge delivering the dedication speech to a crowd of 150,000 people – the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed to that point in time.

Soon after the end of World War I, a group of 40 prominent Kansas City residents formed the Liberty Memorial Association to create a memorial to those who had served in the war. The chose lumber baron Robert A. Long, who had personally donated a large sum of money, as president.

The association included various people well known in Kansas City history – bankers William T. Kemper and Rufus Crosby Kemper Sr., real estate developer Jesse Clyde Nichols, businessman/philanthropist William Volker and architect George Kessler. All had key roles in the fundraising, land acquisition, construction and landscaping of the memorial.

In 1919, the Liberty Memorial Association spearheaded a fund drive that included 83,000 contributors and collected more than $2.5 million in less than two weeks, driven by what museum curator Doran Cart has described in 1998 as "complete, unbridled patriotism".

The Liberty Memorial became a dynamic addition to Kansas City's – and the nation's – cultural landscape, continuing to mark the Armistice and then Veterans Day after President Eisenhower rededicated the holiday. It has served to host commemoration events ever since, including that for the centennial of the armistice on Nov. 11, 2018.

In 2001 the Liberty Memorial became the home of the National World War I Museum and Memorial, which offers a world-class, multi-media explanation of the "the war to end all wars," from its roots in imperial Europe, through its deadly cost and aftermath. While many American citizens may have ignored the war's significance considering all the carnage that has ensued around the globe since that time, the World War I Museum shows how that conflict set the stage for everything to come.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial will offer discounted ticket prices Nov. 8-11 and will host a variety of commemorative activities during that time. For complete information go to the website,


Tips for Commemorating Veterans Day

From "8 Ways to Express Appreciation on Veterans Day," courtesy of

• Show Up – Attend a Veterans Day event in your area.
• Donate – There a number of organizations that support veterans.
• Fly a Flag – Not sure of the proper etiquette? Visit
• Ask Someone About their Service – Questions such as "What did you do in the military" and "How long did you serve" are great starting points.
• Write – Send a postcard, letter or email.
• Don't Confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day – Veterans Day is a time to thank people for their service. Memorial Day is meant to reflect on those who gave their lives during service.
• Visit a VA Hospital – Many host special events on Veterans Day.
• Get Outdoors with a Veteran – Admission to national parks is free for everyone on Veterans Day.

Leigh Elmore can be contacted at

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