Grass roots

Veterans Day had its start in a small town from the heartland

Care to guess in what city the movement which led to Veterans Day being celebrated had its origins? Washington, D. C.? New York City? Boston?

No and you’d probably guess a while unless you already knew the answer. It’s Emporia, Kansas.

Talk about your grass roots, up-from-the ground movements. The modern Veterans Day originated when a shoe repairman from that moderately-sized (about 20,000) city in north central Kansas got an idea in the early 1950s.

Why couldn’t Armistice Day, which had been proclaimed for the first time Nov. 11, 1919, by President Woodrow Wilson to honor Americans dying in that war, be expanded?

Alvin King thought it should include all American veterans serving at all times since there was already a holiday (Memorial Day) which honored those dying in war.

King’s nephew, John Cooper, had been killed in France during World War II.

King promoted his idea so well that the Emporia Chamber of Commerce endorsed it and urged the community to plan observances commemorating the service of all veterans. That’s exactly what happened.

Congressman Ed Rees (R-Kansas) then introduced a bill officially changing the focus of Armistice Day from World War I casualties to American service men and women in general, including those currently serving.

It passed, overwhelmingly, and was signed into law by the president on May 26, 1954.

Fittingly that president was, of course, Dwight Eisenhower, who had led Allied forces in World War II.

One week later Congress officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

And now it’s observed from Honolulu to Bangor, from Nome to Miami, in New York City and San Francisco and Rockdale.

And, of course, in Emporia, Kansas.—M.B.

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2011-11-10 digital edition

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