From the Collection: Veteran’s Day

SOHS #2010.1.1.20

Did you know that no matter the day of the week, Veteran’s Day always falls on the 11th day of the 11th month? The enduring timing of this federal holiday is due to its origin story. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson established Armistice Day to commemorate the World War I armistice, which had occurred at 11 am on November 11 of the year prior. Though the hope following this “war to end all wars” was continued peace abroad, we know now that this was not to be so. In 1954, Congress amended the holiday to “Veteran’s Day” to honor American soldiers who had fought (and would fight) in any war. 

While Veteran’s Day arose in the aftermath of WWI, veterans issues had been of growing concern in the United States well before this time. For example, it was the lack of veteran’s services and benefits following the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902 that led former soldiers to found what would later become Veterans of Foreign Wars (or V.F.W.) organizations around the turn of the century. Such groups were active in fighting for veteran’s rights and the rights of veteran’s families, assisting veterans in accessing healthcare, commemorating those whose lives had been lost in battle, and promoting camaraderie amongst their members. By 1915, V.F.W. membership had risen nationally to 5000 people; that number would increase forty-fold by 1936. 

The SOHS Collection includes several items from the former V.F.W. Walter A. Phillips Post No. 3423 in Ashland. Established in 1936 and closed in 2000, the post was named for born-and-bred Ashlander Walter Alfred Phillips. An Ashland high school graduate and former football star, Phillips enlisted at the beginning of WWI, becoming a first lieutenant in the 19th Field Artillery. On October 1, 1918, his plane was shot down during the Battle of the Argonne Forest — just six weeks before the armistice was called, and about a week shy of his 25th birthday. Clearly beloved by his community, Lieutenant Phillips was memorialized in the local newspaper with these tender words: “We have watched with pride the unfolding and development of this splendid character from childhood to man’s estate, and his sterling qualities and nobility of soul won their way into our hearts. We loved him.” 

The poster above depicts Phillips in uniform, and once hung at the V.F.W. Post No. 3423 (SOHS #2010.1.1.20). Below, one of several letters in the SOHS Collection written by Walter A. Phillips to his family at home. This particular letter is addressed to his father, and is thought to be the last letter penned before Lieutenant Phillips’ death. Note the phrase at lower right that has been removed by military censor (SOHS #2015.60.14). 

SOHS #2015.60.14

-Anna Sloan, SOHS Curator

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