The Veteran’s Day we celebrate now was originally known as Armistice Day until 1954. The purpose of the holiday was to commemorate the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. Presidents often participate in ceremonies on November 11th at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, now the Tomb of the Unknowns, at Arlington National Cemetery, which is located across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. President Roosevelt attended Armistice Day events at Arlington every November during his tenure in office. Presented here are photos from four of those years from the Harris and Ewing Photograph Collection held by the Library of Congress.
In 1936, General John J. Pershing joined FDR in paying tribute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Now Tomb of the Unknowns). As his schedule notes, the President “motored” out to Arlington at 10:45 AM for the 11:00 event. General Pershing had served as commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.
Secretary of War Harry Woodring provided remarks, and Pershing placed a white chrysanthemum wreath on the President’s and the American people’s behalf at the foot of the tomb. A solemn crowd then heard a bugler play taps. The President returned to the White House at 11:45.
In 1937, the President was accompanied by his mother to ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1938, Roosevelt arrived at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of World War I. He was accompanied by his military aides Captain Daniel Callaghan and Colonel Edwin “Pa” Watson.
Earlier that year, he’d signed a bill making Armistice Day a national legal holiday. The future Cuban dictator, who largely exercised control over Cuba at the time, Fulgencio Batista, also attended the ceremonies. Over twenty years later, he’d be overthrown by a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro.
More important than any other guests, even the President, were World War I service members and war mothers. One such veteran was Alex Stern, who lost his leg at the battle of Meuse-Argonne. Nearby, Mrs. Rosa M. Cawood, a war mother, takes a photo of President Roosevelt during the ceremony.
Armistice Day events at Arlington in 1939 were again a somber occasion to mark the sacrifices made by so many Americans, as well as their Allied counterparts, during World War I. That year’s ceremonies were held in the dark shadow of the new European war, which would ultimately become World War II. Acting Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison, son of inventor Thomas Edison, delivered remarks.
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