Kansas Influence-Armistice Day Becomes Veterans Day, 1954
Written by Donna Casement, State Library of Kansas
KGI Online Library Blog-November 12, 2020
The history of November 11, a day the nation celebrates with parades and speeches in honor of our nation's veterans, has a history dating back to 1918. On November 11, 1918, Allied forces and Germany signed an armistice to cease fighting. World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on June 28, 1919 in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France.
One year after the armistice agreement was signed, President Wilson addressed the nation and declared, “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, 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.” (#1-The Topeka State Journal, November 11, 1919
On November 11, 1921 at the Arlington National Cemetery, where the body of the unknown soldier was laid to rest, President Harding said, “We are met today to pay the impersonal tribute. The name of him whose body lies before us took flight with his imperishable soul. We know not whence he came, but only that his death marks him with the everlasting story of an American dying for his country.” (#2-The Manhattan Weekly Mercury, November 11, 1921
In 1938, Congress made the 11th of November a legal holiday, a day dedicated to world peace and the celebration of America’s veterans. The next year, Germany would invade Poland. France and Britain would declare war on Germany, and the world would be thrown into a second world war.
Alvin J. King sent his beloved family member, John Cooper, to serve in World War II. Pfc. Cooper was killed in action in 1944 and was buried in Limey, France. Thereafter, King mourned his loss and joined millions of Americans who took part in Armistice Day celebrations each year, honoring the nation's veterans.
King became instrumental in helping the city of Emporia organize and honor veterans and those who served in all wars and conflicts, not just World War I. He encouraged the designation of the name Veterans Day to replace the name Armistice Day. According to Roberta Birk Mlynar in an Emporia Gazette
article (November 1, 2003) titled “A Day to Honor Veterans”, it would be the loss of a family member that gave King the passion in his efforts to rename Armistice Day.
Mlynar wrote, “Grief over the young man’s death apparently started King looking for a way to honor not only his nephew, but all veterans who fight during wars and serve during peace to keep America free. King thus began his campaign to change an existing national holiday-Armistice Day-to Veterans Day. He gained the cooperation of the community’s American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AmVets and War Dads units, plus support from an essential ally, U. S. Rep. Ed Rees of Emporia.”
On November 11, 1953, Emporia area businesses and veterans’ organizations came together to celebrate, for the first time, Veterans Day on Armistice Day. The Emporia Veterans Day celebrations were noticed by Representative Rees. Congressman Rees, who represented Kansas’ fourth congressional district beginning in 1937, shared King’s interest in a national day of celebration on November 11 to be called Veterans Day.
The next year Representative Rees would propose a bill, changing the name Armistice Day to Veterans Day. President Eisenhower supported the change, and on June 1, 1954, Congressman Rees and Alvin J. King witnessed President Eisenhower sign HR7786, officially changing the name Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
The following year, the Kansas legislature passed Senate Bill no. 52, which designated "that the eleventh day of November in each year shall be known as Veterans Day, and the same is hereby declared a legal holiday." (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b4375186&view=1up&seq=490&q1=veterans day
More than a decade after the passing of Alvin King, Emporia would be designated as the founding city of Veterans Day. King would be credited with his place in history by helping to lay the groundwork for the passage of HCR 159. On October 31, 2003, Congress would pass House Concurrent Resolution 159.
House Concurrent Resolution 159-Emporia, Kansas-Founding City of Veterans Day
-Sponsor Congressman Jerry Moran
in 1953, Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kansas, proposed that Armistice Day be changed to Veterans Day to recognize and honor all veterans from all wars and conflicts;
in 1953, Veterans Day was first organized and celebrated in Emporia, Kansas;
although Alvin King was only 15 years old when the United States went to war in 1917 and never served in the Armed Forces, he had a deep respect for veterans;
Alvin King's stepson, John Cooper, whom he had raised, was killed in action in Belgium during World War II while serving with Rifle Company B, 137th Infantry Regiment;
after World War II, Alvin King developed friendships with the surviving members of Rifle Company B, 137th Infantry Regiment;
in the early 1950s, Alvin King suggested either creating a special day to honor all veterans or adapting Armistice Day so that it was dedicated to all veterans since, at that time, Armistice Day honored the veterans of World War I;
by 1953, the community of Emporia, Kansas, had raised enough money to send Alvin King and his wife, Gertrude, to Washington, D.C. to garner support for an official veterans day;
Alvin King had a friend and supporter in Representative Ed Rees of Emporia, Kansas, who was strongly in favor of King's idea and said ``it would give the holiday a new meaning and more widespread patriotic observance'';
on June 1, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was raised in Kansas, signed into law the Act proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day (Public Law 380 of the 83rd Congress);
on October 8, 1954, President Eisenhower issued a presidential proclamation concerning Veterans Day in 1954 in which he stated, ``On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain''; and
the first nationwide observance of Veterans Day was on November 11, 1954: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring),
That Congress hereby-
(1) encourages Americans to demonstrate their support for veterans on Veterans Day by treating that day as a special day of remembrance;
(2) declares Emporia, Kansas, to be the founding city of Veterans Day;
(3) recognizes Alvin J. King, of Emporia, Kansas, as the founder of Veterans Day; and
(4) recognizes that Representative Ed Rees, of Emporia, Kansas, was instrumental in the efforts to enact into law the observance of Veterans Day.