How an Alabama WWII vet convinced President Eisenhower to create Veterans Day
This Tuesday, Nov. 11, Americans around the country will celebrate the United States’ 60th annual Veterans Day. In Birmingham, as in countless cities and towns around the the state and nation, citizens will head downtown to enjoy a parade in honor of the men and women who serve our nation in the Armed Forces. Veterans Day parades are always memorable events, often showcasing American heroes who are an inspiration to us all. But in Alabama, parade attendees are carrying on an incredible legacy, whether they realize it or not.
In 1945, a World War II veteran from Birmingham, Ala., named Raymond Weeks led a delegation to Washington, D.C. to urge then-Army Chief of Staff General Dwight Eisenhower to support their efforts to create a national holiday honoring all U.S. veterans.
Since 1919, Americans had celebrated Armistice Day each Nov. 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson declared it a day of remembrance and reflection to honor the bravery and heroism of World War 1 vets.
Weeks hoped to expand the holiday to honor all U.S. veterans, but while Eisenhower was receptive to his idea, he was not in a position to unilaterally make the change.
Undeterred, Weeks set out in 1947 to organize a “National Veterans Day,” to include parades and other festivities. That year, Birmingham held the nation’s first ever Veterans Day parade.
Seven years later, with Dwight Eisenhower now occupying the White House, U.S. Representative Ed Rees from Eisenhower’s home state of Kansas pushed a bill through Congress establishing Veterans Day. Eisenhower signed it into law almost a decade after Weeks had first come to him with the idea.
In 1982, then-President Ronald Reagan honored Weeks at the White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal and declared him the “Father of Veterans Day.”
From 1947 until his death in 1985, Weeks organized Birmingham’s famed Veterans Day parade.
So as Alabamians around the state attend their local Veterans Day parades on Tuesday, they’ll not only be honoring America’s servicemen and women, they’ll also be carrying on the legacy of an American hero and Alabama legend — Raymond Weeks.
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