The day the “war to end all wars” ended has evolved into Veterans Day, a time to honor all who have served in the military, whether in war or peace. Congress once tried to turn the day into a Monday holiday, but it didn’t last long. President Gerald Ford moved it back to November 11 because of the day’s roots in history.
World War I ended with a signed armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month, November 11, 1918. Cheering and celebrations broke out at the news.
For 1919, President Wood Wilson declared the first anniversary of the armistice should be maked with a “day of reflection and gratitude,” Brittanica.com said.
In Orange for many years, the Retail Merchants Association voted to close stores in the business district on Armistace Day. Barbers, which had a union, also closed their shops. Of course the city hall, courthouse and post office were closed.
The daily newspaper through the years reported that drug stores and gas stations stayed open. Sometimes in the 1920s, even the daily newspaper wasn’t printed on November 11.
The third official Armistice Day in 1921 was celebrated in Orange with schools and businesses closed. A parade was held beginning at Fourth Street and traveling westward on Green Avenue through the business district, the paper said.
That parade may have led to the local tradition of parades starting with fire trucks blaring their sirens. By accident, two fire trucks “responding to an impression that a fire whistle had blown, left the fire station, which was facing Main Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets. That was where the parade was starting.
The newspapers said there were several “narrow escapes” by children and adults who had been in the way of the fire trucks. It happened because “many people had mistook the shrieking of the fire apparatus for a part of the program.”
Stores, businesses and offices closing also led to a holiday for many people. In 1925, The White Hardware Company on Fifth Street advertised that it would be closed on November 11. “Don’t forget to buy your hunting supplies early for that big Armistice Day hunt. The norther is here and so are the ducks.”
In addition, the South Texas State Fair was open on that day in Beaumont. Railroads going to Beaumont offered reduced rates to go to the fair and people from Orange were planning on using their time off to go to the fair.
Orange in 1934 had flags set up along the curb lines in the business district, but no parade. The American Legion Auxiliary was out selling the traditional paper poppy flowers used to raise money “to rehabilitate disabled ex-servicemen of the world war.”
Mrs. Lovelace McKinley from the auxiliary had help with the poppies on that Armistice Day from young ladies Jane Cohenour, Elma Selman, Thelma Hilliard, Elouise Pennington, and Alice Levingston.
Armistice Day in 1940 Orange came at a time when Europe was again involved in war with the U.S. trying to stay out. However, the country was involved in building up its defense industry and Orange was a key site for shipbuilding. Housing was desperately needed, the paper reported.
That year an special program was held at 11 a.m. at Tiger Stadium and Mayor Abe Sokolski officially declared the day as American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Day.
World War II changed the sentiments toward Armistice Day. In 1946, the Orange Retail Merchants Association voted to leave stores open on November 11, though the barbers still closed their shops. No schools closed, though the courthouse and city hall were closed. “In general, it appears that Armistice Day is getting to be a thing of the past,” the paper wrote.
Veterans of World War I from Orange, including Archie King, went to Beaumont to attend a reunion for Company C of the 36th Division. The paper reported Company C was started in Orange early in World War I by Mayor D.W. Stakes, who became the first lieutenant. By 1946, he was the manager of the Texas prison system.
The last “Armistice Day” in the country would have been in 1953. It was also the 35th anniversary of the peace declaration to end the first world war.
That year, more than 150 U.S. flags were on display throughout the downtown business area, thanks to the American Legion. World War II veteran Sam Blanda was in charge of the flag project, assisted by Korean War veteran Bernard Blanda.
Congress had made Armistice Day a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower, a former World War II general, officially changed November 11 to Veterans Day, History.com said.
Congress in 1968 then passed the uniform holiday act moving holidays to Mondays. The first time Veterans Day fit into the mix was in 1971, but President Ford moved it back in 1975.