On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I formally ended. One year later, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated that first anniversary of Armistice Day. It did not become a federal holiday until 1938, but Transylvania County celebrated its veterans well before then.
In July 1919, only a few weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Brevard News reported on “Transylvania’s big day.” On that Wednesday, Brevard citizens were “determined to show the Transylvania soldier boys how glad their neighbors, kinfolk, and friends were to have them home again.” The day began with a parade that included many military and fraternal organizations as well as floats in the lineup. Any rain in the forecast did not deter the celebration. Following the parade, food was served as “the housewives of the county had been called upon to make the Transylvania soldier boys forget the days of hard tack and bully beef and right nobly did respond to the call. There was a multitude to be fed and there was enough fried chicken and plenty of ham sandwiches to feed the population of half a dozen counties the size of Transylvania.” The day ended with a number of games and athletic contests and was sure to “linger a life-time in the memories of those who had the good fortune to take part welcoming home Transylvania soldier boys.”
Besides that festive July celebration, veterans were also celebrated with medals. Newspapers notified citizens about different honors available to veterans, such as the Victory Medal that the War Department started issuing in 1920. North Carolina presented its own medal in 1920 to “all soldiers, sailors, and marines who were in the service between April 6,1917m and November 11,1918, and received an honorable discharge – more than eighty thousand, all told.” The Red Cross was responsible for distributing these distinctions to North Carolina veterans.
By 1954, Congress passed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day, shifting the celebration from honoring WWI Veterans to honoring American Veterans, living or dead, of all wars and conflicts. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 attempted to change Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October, but many states did not follow this new observance and confusion surrounded the holiday. By 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a new law returning Veterans Day observation to November 11, and it has been celebrated on that date since 1978.
While Armistice Day began as a commemoration of WWI veterans and the ending of “The Great War,” Veterans Day now commemorates all those with military service. There are countless stories of Transylvania County residents who honorably served their country; one need only browse through the accounts in the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room or The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas. With its long history of military service members, Transylvania County continues to honor military veterans every November 11.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Sources are available upon request. This article was written by Local History Associate Erin Weber Boss. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.