At 11:00 that morning, the Great War (as it was known before there were two World Wars to choose from) ended as far as the soldiers were concerned. While formal armistice wouldn’t happen for another six months, the guns fell silent behind the trenches where four years of “modern” warfare had done their best to eradicate as many young men as possible in the most efficient manner available, whether it be rapid fire bullets, handheld bombs, tanks, airplanes, or poison gas.
President Wilson commemorated that first Armistice Day, honoring the brave men who fought; not because they chose to fight, but rather they fought to free us from future conflicts. In 1926, Armistice Day was formalized by Congress. The proclamation asked businesses to close and people to remember.
“Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…”
Unfortunately, the children of World War I grew up to fight and die in World War II, and more served in the Korean Conflict. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day, changing the goal to remember all those who served the United States in the armed forces. The Administrator of Veteran’s Affairs was charged with the task “to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary… the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.” For fifty four years, on land, sea and air, we have had the continuing chance to witness young men and women make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our national interests around the globe in the unlikeliest of places: Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a dozen other minor skirmishes that are only remembered by those who read history or tend the graves of the fallen.
I’d like to suggest to the future Administrator of Veterans Affairs, whoever it turns out to be, to celebrate Veterans Day not with noisy parades, cheering crowds or bright brass bands. Instead, I’d suggest silence. Perhaps the guns can stop again someday. Our soldiers can pause a moment on November 11th in quiet reflection, rather than spend a quiet eternity in the company of those still in France some ninety years after armistice was declared to end the War to End All Wars.
Too bad it’s too late to change this Veterans Day; the eleventh hour has come and gone in too many troubled places around the world. But there’s always next year. Hope, like peace, springs eternal.