In the early winter of 1918, after four years of a terrible war that destroyed much of Europe, the Allies and the Germans decided to stop hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
That they could be so poetic in their timing of the cessation of battle, after years of the brutality and horror brought by World War I, is astonishing.
The official end of World War I happened later, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919, but the day that marked the end of fighting was the day that President Wilson chose as Armistice Day, the national holiday to honor the soldiers who served in that war.
Of course, the “war to end all wars” did nothing of the kind. As time went on, we added more wars to history, more heroes to be mourned and remembered.
In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day into Veterans Day to honor the heroism of the veterans of all wars.
My father was a veteran of the Korean War, the “forgotten war.” He was the kind of soldier who spoke very little about his experiences on the front line of battle. It really wasn’t until he drew near his own death that stories about his war-time experiences began to bubble up to the surface. The presentiment of his own mortality freed him up to talk about the deaths he witnessed in a distant land so many years before.
What I wish I’d known then: I wish I had known to ask more questions when he shared the bits and fragments of his war stories.
What I know now: the experiences of a soldier in war are incredible, painful, incomprehensible sometimes, yet we need to remember these stories; we need to know these stories; we need to hand them down to the next generation with the hope that in doing so, we are doing a small part to ensure that no one has to endure those experiences again.
Today We Remember
Today is the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Today is Veteran’s Day, the day we honor all the people who have risked – and continue to risk – their lives in battle to protect our rights as Americans. I am filled with gratitude for their sacrifices.
America was born of war and our soldiers are in war zones war today. The bones of our soldiers lie scattered throughout the world. Today, we remember the sacrifices, the valor and the stories of all the American men and women who have fought and died for our principles.
As a nation, we are forever in their debt.