In 1953, a shoe salesman named Albert J. King, still mourning the loss of his nephew, John Cooper, during World War II, had a proposal for the city of Emporia, Kansas. Why not adapt Armistice Day, a holiday established to honor World War I veterans, into a holiday for all veterans? Through that idea, Veterans Day came to Emporia, and soon after to the entire United States as well.
Emporia first celebrated Veterans Day on November 11, 1953. The next year, U.S. Representative Ed Rees, also from Emporia, brought a bill to Congress changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. U.S. President and fellow Kansan Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954, and the first national Veterans Day was celebrated later that year.
As with much history, this narrative is somewhat complicated by reality. In particular, Birmingham, Alabama, also has a strong claim on Veterans Day, due to the efforts of World War II veteran Raymond Weeks to establish a Veterans Day in 1947. To share credit, Birmingham was named the “first city of Veterans Day” by the Senate, while Emporia was proclaimed the “Founding City of Veterans Day” by the House. Veterans Day, much like success, has many fathers.
On May 26, 1991, to cement Emporia’s legacy as the home of Veterans Day, a park was opened to honor U.S. veterans of all wars. Displays at the memorial include a World War II M-4A6 Sherman army tank, and a Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War. Tablets of Honor recognize individual veterans through donated plaques. Each year in November, the town observes All Veterans Tribute Week in recognition of all veterans and Emporia’s history.
Know Before You Go
All Veterans Memorial Park is free and open to the public daily from sunrise until 11:00 p.m.