Billed as the “war to end all wars,” WWI lasted from 1914 to 1918. Peace was declared on November 11, 1918 and that date is commemorated each year as Armistice Day around the world—becoming a national holiday in the United States in 1938. Unfortunately, the second world war broke out in 1939 and American soldiers joined the efforts in 1941. After the war ended in 1945, people around the nation began to look for ways to expand Armistice Day to honor all veterans.
“Raymond Weeks was not the only person in America who had this idea,” says Dr. David Dyson, author of Patriotism in Action. “In 1945, there were many people who believed Armistice Day needed to be expanded and that we should have a national celebration to commemorate veterans of all wars.” Action, he points out, is the difference between saying and doing.
The next year, Weeks and a delegation from Birmingham visited General Eisenhower at the Pentagon with a written proposal for a Veterans Day celebration and suggested Birmingham as the host city. In 1947, Weeks hosted the nation’s first Veterans Day parade in downtown Birmingham. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation designating Veterans Day as a national holiday. It wasn’t until 2012 that Congress officially recognized Weeks, and Bimingham, for their roles in creating Veterans Day.
Raymond Weeks spent his early years in Phenix City, Alabama before he moved to Birmingham, Alabama with his family as a child. He graduated from Birmingham-Southern College and, as a young professional, was initiated into the Civitan Club of Birmingham in 1935 at the age of 27. After the United States entered the war in 1941, He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and earned his honorable discharge in 1945. He returned to his career and his life of community involvement in Birmingham.
Weeks founded the National Veterans Day organization in 1947 and led it until his death in 1985. He also served three terms in the Alabama State House of Representatives and remained an active member of the Birmingham Club throughout his career. In 1982, Weeks was honored by President Reagan with the Presidential Citizenship Medal. Reagan called Weeks the “driving force behind Veterans Day” and Elizabeth Dole introduced him as the ”Father of Veterans Day.”
In its nearly 102 year history, Civitan has expanded into many countries around the world and updated the Civitan Creed several times. The motto “Builders of Good Citizenship” is the same as it has always been. No matter what country a Civitan calls home, members around the world can look with pride to a fellow Civitan who expanded Armistice Day as a tribute to all veterans.
Weeks envisioned Veterans Day as more than a remembrance of war. He wanted the day to be a celebration of peace. Each year, The World Peace Luncheon is held in his hometown before the Veterans Day Parade.
As our ears “ hear the cry of children and the call throughout the world for peace,” Civitans can look to Armistice Day and Veterans Day worldwide as a point of pride and a celebration of the peace we speak about and seek in our creed.