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101 Years Ago, the Great War Ended — And We Had a Holiday For That

Getty Images / Corbis Historical / Hulton Deutsch

Why did Nov. 11 used to be called Armistice Day?

A hundred and one years ago this month, in 1918, at the agreed-upon time of 11 am on November 11, one of the bloodiest wars in human history stopped.

The Great War, later to be known as the First World War, had killed somewhere between 15 and 20 million people across Europe, Asia, and Africa — including soldiers as well as civilians — in just four years' time. An unthinkable number of families were shattered by the loss of so many sons and daughters, not just in combat but also from the widespread famine and disease the war brought.

Some of those young people whose lives were lost shared their thoughts about the war before they died:

Then, on 11/11, leaders from the Allied forces on one side and the German forces on the other side met in France and signed an armistice (a truce) agreeing to end all combat.

That's why, from 1919 to 1954, the United States celebrated November 11 as Armistice Day, recognizing how precious an accomplishment it was that the nations engaged in this horrific killing had finally negotiated an end to it.

In 1954, the U.S. government officially changed the name of the November 11 holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, so we could have a holiday that would honor all American veterans (and not just those who gave their lives, as is done on Memorial Day).

So on November 11, we give thanks to all those who've dedicated themselves to keeping the rest of us safe. And it's so important to take a moment to recall the original point of Armistice Day in the first place: This was the day the world STOPPED FIGHTING, if only for a while.

Surely that accomplishment is worth celebrating and honoring as one of the holiest days of the year, no matter where you come from.

Read the first-hand words of the young men who lost their lives on the battlefields of WWI.

(Related: During WWI, the first woman enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. We remember her here.)