U.S. President Donald Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday in observance of Veterans Day.
“On Veterans Day, we pause to pay tribute to all who have proudly worn our nation’s uniform,” Trump wrote in a proclamation for the holidays.
“We enjoy the privileges of peace, prosperity and freedom because of our veterans, and we are forever indebted to them beyond measure.”
President-elect Joe Biden marked Veterans Day with a visit to the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia. Biden’s son Beau served in the Delaware National Guard and died in 2015 of brain cancer.
“To our proud veterans — I will be a commander in chief who respects your sacrifice, understands your service and will never betray the values you fought so bravely to defend,” Biden wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
Ahead of Veterans Day, the Trump administration announced lifetime free access to U.S. national parks for all veterans and Gold Star families.
“The Trump administration is committed to honoring American patriots — the men and women who have served in our armed forces,” Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt said.
Last week, Trump proclaimed November National Veterans and Military Families Month.
He was heavily criticized in September after The Atlantic magazine reported he allegedly referred to U.S. soldiers killed in combat as “suckers” and “losers” — allegations the president has denied.
Veterans Day is commemorated each year on November 11, a tradition that began when World War I ended on that day in 1918 with Germany’s surrender.
The day honors anyone who has served in the U.S. armed forces. In a typical year, the day is marked by ceremonies, military bands and parades across the country. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, many events have been canceled, scaled back or switched to a virtual format in many cities.
Trump's appearance at Arlington National Cemetery was not open to the public but was livestreamed from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honors U.S. service members killed in battle whose remains have not been identified.
Virtual commemorations were also planned at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial.
Officials in Fort Worth, Texas, were to hold a modified parade, dubbed a Memorial Motorcade, with a procession of wheeled vehicles only. The New York Veterans Day celebration was set to include a series of socially distanced live events, as well as virtual events.
This year’s pared-down commemorations also came after a bitterly fought election campaign with razor-thin margins in several key swing states that highlighted how politically divided the country is.
Preliminary exit polls from the election showed Trump led among military voters, 52% to 44%. However, the president had a smaller margin of support in 2020 than in 2016, when he led 59% to 35%.
A Military Times poll in October 2018 found that about half of military personnel said they did not affiliate with either major political party, a continuing trend the poll has found in recent years.
The Military Times poll also found that more than three-fourths of troops believed the military had become more politically polarized in recent years.
World War I beginnings
Veterans Day is traditionally a time when Americans come together regardless of political party to support and honor the service of all veterans.
The day became a national observance in 1926. At that time, it was known as Armistice Day, commemorating Germany’s surrender of World War I on November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Congress changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor not only U.S. veterans of World War I but also veterans of World War II, which ended in 1945.
The day now honors any U.S. military veteran and not just those who have fought in war. It is separate from the Memorial Day holiday in May, which honors those who died in military service.
The United States has about 17.4 million veterans, according to U.S. census data. Just more than half were 65 years old or older in 2019.
According to the data, the states with the highest percentage of veterans — more than 10% — are Virginia, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that nearly 42 million Americans have fought in wars from the American Revolution in 1775 to Desert Storm in 1991. Another 3.3 million veterans have served since the terror attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001.