Today, Veterans Day represents a commemoration of our country’s history and its place in the global community. Here at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, it means honoring not only our donors’ political service, but their military service as well. For former Representative Chet Edwards, Veterans Day was a reminder of the debt our citizens owe to every former military member.
The history of Veterans Day reaches back to the First World War. On November 11, 1918, the armistice between Germany and the Allied powers took effect, signaling the unofficial end of the then-named “Great War.” President Woodrow Wilson declared the national observance and commemoration of the cease-fire one year later, but Armistice Day didn’t become an annual holiday until 1938. Armistice Day’s annual celebration was meant to honor World War I veterans and the cause of world peace; in 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks pushed for the holiday’s expansion, believing that all American veterans deserved to be honored. In 1954, Weeks’s persistence paid off; Veterans Day became an official federal holiday.
During his time in Congress, Chet Edwards was a champion for veterans’ issues. His mentor Olin E. Teague, the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and his father, a World War II naval aviator, instilled the congressman with a strong commitment to America’s veterans. Locally, Edwards fought to keep the Waco VA Medical Center open, and as Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, he authored the largest increase in veterans’ health care funding in the VA’s 77-year history. He has been honored by the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Officers Association of America, and numerous other military groups for his legislative work toward veterans’ issues, but has called his 20-year representation of Fort Hood and its 40,000 soldiers the “singular honor” of his career. Edwards’s passion for veterans’ issues can be seen in these photographs from the November 10, 2007 dedication of West, Texas’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
As Congressman Edwards repeatedly demonstrated, our nation’s veterans represent an invaluable piece of American history. The United States military’s inclusion in World War I and World War II led to the restructuring of the geopolitical landscape and cemented the country into a global superpower, defining the country’s role for decades to come. Throughout his service, Edwards sought prioritize the well-being of veterans and their families, both nationally and at home. Today, we honor the men and women in uniform who have served, remembering their sacrifices and celebrating their achievements.