The Lowry Air Force Base Color Guard in the annual Veterans Day Parade In Denver on Nov. 11, 1963.
Dave Mathias—Denver Post / Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
November 10, 2016

As Americans mark Veterans Day on Friday, some citizens may remember when that day was called something totally different: Armistice Day.

Within a few years of the end of World War I, TIME has explained, Congress decided to commemorate the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that brought the end of that war with an annual celebration of the peace and those who had fought for it. Armistice Day became a national holiday in the 1930s.

But by 1954, Congress officially changed the name of the day to Veterans Day. What happened in between?

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan explained why the old label for the day had ceased to be applicable:

The occasion for Reagan’s remarks was the presentation of the Presidential Citizens Medal to Raymond Weeks, in recognition of Weeks’ work to honor American veterans. In 1947, Weeks had organized a parade and a Veterans Day in Birmingham, Ala.; that event is recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as the first usage of the phrase “Veterans Day.”

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But Reagan didn’t just explain why it was no longer appropriate for Nov. 11 to be Armistice Day. He also explained why it’s good for a nation to have a Veterans Day instead, with a quote he traced to President Coolidge: “The Nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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