Honoring Veterans Throughout History

A half-length portrait of George Washington wearing a military uniform
George Washington / Robert Edge Pine / 1785 / Naitonal Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Veteran’s Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day on the eleventh day of the eleventh month to commemorate the armistice that ended hostilities during World War I on November 11, 1918. On May 13, 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday. However, after World War II, in 1954, the legislation was amended to change “Armistice” to “Veteran’s” and to change the original purpose of celebration—a day committed to world peace—to a day to honor veterans of all wars. At the Portrait Gallery, we honor veterans throughout American history, from George Washington to present-day troops.

Unfinished painting of a stern looking man in a military uniform
John J. Pershing / Sir William Orpen / c. 1919 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Gift of the International Business Machines Corporation

A portrait of the remembrance day’s founder General John J. Pershing by Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen can be seen in the 20th Century galleries on the third floor. Pershing was Commander of American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, and near the time of this portraits completion in 1919, Pershing became one of two people—the other was George Washington—to be promoted to the role of “General of the Armies of the United States.” His memoir My Experiences in World War won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. You can learn more about John J. Pershing and this portrait from a Facebook Live talk by historian Kate C. Lemay. 

Photograph of two men with their arms around each other smiling at the camera
Afghanistan, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, July 2008. 2nd Platoon's Lucas Walker with his lookalike Ryan Glen Shriner of the 1st Infantry Division who came to replace him at Restrepo outpost / Tim Hetherington / July 2008 / Courtesy Tim Hetherington Trust

Our special exhibition “The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now” features the work of artists Ashley Gilbertson, Tim Hetherington, Louie Palu, Stacy Pearsall, Emily Prince and Vincent Valdez. The show explores the modern soldier and the personal ramifications of war. In six separate rooms, visitors can engage with the different experiences and perspectives of soldiers in six decidedly different and poignant ways.

On behalf of the National Portrait Gallery, thank you to all veterans for your service to our country.