When an armistice began at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, Americans honored that date as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
That turned out to be premature.
The deaths and devastation of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, the Gulf wars, Iraq and Afghanistan have turned that hope into wishful thinking, but the message that underlies what is now known as Veterans Day is as strong today as it was when President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 to be Armistice Day. Especially so, as Special Forces troops are sent as we write this into yet another battlefield, this time in Syria.
Indeed, when Congress officially recognized the end of World War I and the establishment of Armistice Day on Nov. 11 in a resolution passed in 1926, it referred to “the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed…”
The resolution continues, “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,” and advocates marking the date “with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
In 1938, Nov. 11 became a federal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace.” In 1954, the name Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor the service of veterans in all wars.
And the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs emphasizes that Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge their contributions to national security, and to underscore that all those who have served, living and dead, have sacrificed and done their duty to their country.
Veterans Day is not a time of celebration, but is intended instead as a break in the routine, a time to reflect on our freedoms and on the sacrifices of those who have fought to defend what we hold dear – and what we all too often take for granted.
It’s much more than a day when mail isn’t delivered or school is not in session. Veterans Day should serve as a reminder that our veterans deserve recognition and thanks for their sacrifice, and an acknowledgement that what they are fighting for ultimately is world peace.