The Kansas Shoe Salesman Responsible for Veterans Day

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Alvin King, Congressman Rees, and President Eisenhower

The reason we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th dates back to 1918, when an armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed that essentially ended World War I. The first Armistice Day was celebrated the following November 11th.

World War I was billed as the war to end all wars, but of course it didn't. So by the 1950s, with so many American men and women veterans of World War II and the conflict in Korea, some thought the term "Armistice Day" was outdated.

A New Day

There's a shoe salesman from Emporia, Kansas, who probably isn't in many history books, but deserves at least a paragraph.

In the early 1950s, a gentleman by the name of Alvin King thought Armistice Day was too limiting. He'd lost family in World War II, and thought all American veterans of all wars should be honored on November 11th. He formed a committee, and in 1953 Emporia, Kansas, celebrated Veterans Day.

The local congressman, Ed Rees, loved the idea and took it to Washington. President Eisenhower liked Alvin King's idea, too. In May 1954, Eisenhower formally changed November 11th to Veterans Day and invited some of Emporia's residents to be there when he signed the bill. Al King was one of those invited, but there was one problem—King didn't own a nice suit. His veteran friends chipped in and bought him a proper suit and paid his way from Kansas to the White House.

In 2003, Congress passed a resolution declaring Emporia to be the founding city of Veterans Day.

This story originally ran in November 2012.

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