Veterans Day is held every year on November 11 to honor people who served in any branch of the United States military. It is not a day to commemorate fallen soldiers, which is what Memorial Day is for, and it is not a day for honoring actively serving military members, which is what Armed Forces Day is for.
Many other countries celebrate November 11 as well, but they do so as Armistice Day (or in some places, Remembrance Day), commemorating the end of the First World War.
America’s Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day as well. On November 11, 1919, then-president Woodrow Wilson made a speech commemorating the one year anniversary of the end of the Great War. In it, he said, “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, 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.”
Seven years later, Congress adopted a resolution to have the president lead an observance of Armistice Day. Armistice Day became a legal holiday in 1938.
Things changed in 1945 when Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, suggested expanding Armistice Day to a day to remember all veterans. The first national Veterans Day celebration was held in 1947, though it didn’t officially replace Armistice Day until 1954. From 1971 to 1977, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October, but it was moved back to November 11 in 1978 and has remained there since.
Here’s an extra tidbit for any grammar police out there. Veterans Day, not Veteran’s Day (possessed by a single veteran) or Veterans’ Day (possessed by multiple veterans), is the proper way to write it. The reason, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is that it the day doesn’t belong to anyone; it is a day for honoring veterans.