Americans are celebrating Veterans Day Wednesday amid the strain of the coronavirus pandemic and on the heels of a close presidential election.
Veterans Day is commemorated each year on Nov. 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 and in a typical year is marked by ceremonies, military bands and parades across the country. However, this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, many events have been canceled and others have been scaled back or switched to a virtual format.
Parades have been called off in cities such as Orlando, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Antonio, Texas.
The National Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery will not be open to the public but will be livestreamed from the Tomb of the Unknowns, which honors U.S. service members killed in battle whose remains have not been identified.
Virtual commemorations will also take place at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial.
Officials in Fort Worth, Texas, are holding a modified parade, dubbed a Memorial Motorcade, with a procession of wheeled vehicles only. The New York Veterans Day celebration is set to include a series of socially distanced live events as well as virtual events.
This year’s pared-down commemorations also come after a bitterly fought election campaign with razor-thin margins in several key swing states that highlighted how politically divided the country is.
Preliminary results show President Donald 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 do 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 believe the military has become more politically polarized in recent years.
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, but at that time, it was known as Armistice Day, commemorating Germany’s surrender of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. — at 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 – at more than 10% – are Virginia, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.
The U.S. Department of Veteran 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 Sept. 11, 2001.