Honoring U.S. Veterans

On Sunday (and also on Monday as a holiday for federal employees), we honor military veterans. On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to all American veterans and give thanks to living veterans who served our great country honorably during war or peacetime.

Back on November 11, 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to his countrymen. In part of his message, he said, “The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace, when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. To us in America, the reflections … 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.”

Veterans and Active Personnel Today

The percentage of U.S. active duty personnel and veterans with military experience has been declining for years. According to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, there were around 20.4 million U.S. veterans in 2016, representing only 7% of the total U.S. adult population, down from 18% in 1980.

The military draft ended in 1973, but during the draft era, in 1968, there were 3.5 million active duty personnel. Today, there are 1.3 million adults (or less than 1% of our adult population) actively serving in today’s all-volunteer force.

Gulf War-era veterans surpassed Vietnam-era veterans in 2016 to account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans, according to Veterans Affairs’ 2016 population model estimates. As of 2016, there were 6.8 million American veterans who served during the Vietnam era and 7.1 million who served in the Gulf War era, which began in August 1990 and continues through today. (Some veterans served through both eras.) Also in 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated there were 771,000 World War II veterans and 1.6 million who served during the Korean conflict.

Other Interesting Veterans Day Facts:

  • Remembrance Day (in Canada) and Armistice Day (which honors those who died in World War I) is celebrated in other countries on the same day as Veterans Day.
  • World War I formally ended on the 11th day of the 11th months at the 11th hour. The idea to create Veterans Day on Nov. 11 is credited to World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Alabama, who came up with the idea in 1945 to honor all veterans. Week was awarded the Presidential Citizenship Medal from Ronald Reagan in 1982.
  • Veterans Day is sometimes confused with Memorial Day, which honors all those who died while serving in the military. Veterans Day honors all who have served in the U.S. military, dead or alive.

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