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Alvin King and Veterans Day

Veterans Day honors all past and present veterans. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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This Saturday is Veterans Day. It is a day loaded with history.

It is a day set aside to honor all veterans -- past and present -- in order to remember and thank them for their service.

This history surrounding this day is simple:  On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of war fell silent on the Western Front.  

World War I -- The Great War -- had ended.

On Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the day Armistice Day in honor of WWI veterans.

"To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with -- solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service, and with gratitude for the victory," said Wilson.

In 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a legal, federal holiday.

Then there was World War II, which left changes -- big and small -- on our country's history and on the history of millions of people in our country.

One of those individuals was Alvin J. King. He lived in Emporia, Kansas; he repaired shoes for a living.

King and his wife, Gertrude, had raised his nephew, John Eugene Cooper, since he had been orphaned at the age of 2.

Before WWII began, Cooper had enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to the Emporia-based Company B, 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, Kansas National Guard.

On Dec. 23, 1940, Cooper was called to active-duty, and on July 4, 1944 -- one month after the Landing at Normandy -- entered the fight in Europe.

During the Battle of the Bulge -- the last attempt by the German army to break out of the allies' tightening grip around Germany -- Cooper was killed Dec. 20, 1944.

Alvin King experienced the loss of a young man whom he had raised as a son.

In the early 1950s, King began to advance the idea that Armistice Day should not just honor veterans of WWI; the day should honor all veterans.

The citizens of Emporia, Kansas, agreed with him, and on Nov. 11, 1953, the city observed the first Veterans Day while the rest of the country celebrated Armistice Day.

Representative Edward Rees, who represented Emporia, liked the idea, and he introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

The bill passed the House and the Senate.

President Dwight Eisenhower, who was from Kansas, signed the bill June 1, 1954.

Invited by the President, Alvin King attended the signing. A man of modest means, King wore a suit that his neighbors had purchased for him.

On Nov. 11, 1954, all of America celebrated Veterans Day, just as Americans will celebrate it this coming Saturday.

In 2003, Congress adopted a resolution declaring Emporia, Kansas, as the "founding city of Veterans Day."

One man with the idea to honor all veterans made a difference.

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