Today is Veterans Day in America. Each year on this day in November, flags fly in solemn respect for those who have served—and continue to serve—protecting our nation and the freedoms we enjoy today. Unlike Memorial Day, which is intended to honor and remember those who gave their lives for our country, particularly in battle or from wounds they suffered in combat, Veterans Day honors all of those who have served the country in war or peace—dead or alive—although it’s primarily intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices. The difference can be confusing, and most of us actually know very little about how this important holiday actually came about.

These excerpts from an extremely informative article from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a fascinating deeper read about the history and significance of this time-honored tradition.

“In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, D.C., became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day.”

“The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized “National Veterans Day,” which included a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans. The event was held on November 11, then designated Armistice Day. Later, U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day. Raymond Weeks received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan in November 1982. Weeks’ local parade and ceremonies are now an annual event celebrated nationwide.”

“A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date…. The focal point for official, national ceremonies for Veterans Day continues to be the memorial amphitheater built around the Tomb of the Unknowns. At 11 a.m. on November 11, a combined color guard representing all military services executes “Present Arms” at the tomb. The nation’s tribute to its war dead is symbolized by the laying of a presidential wreath. The bugler plays “taps.”

So, today at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, we encourage you to take a moment to pause, reflect, and remember all of those who sacrificed greatly in the service of our great nation.