Today we are a long way in both space and time from the beaches at Normandy, the air fields of England and the islands of the Pacific, from the Gallipolli Campaign and the battlefields of Verdun, and from Gettysburg and Appomattox. We are also, too often, emotionally distant from the world’s current hot spots.
We have come a long way from those “great wars” that so gripped the spirit and the determination of a people. In the intervening century and a half, Americans have become war-weary, uncertain about the “just” causes we embark upon, and tired of it all. Today, fewer than one half of one percent (that’s 0.4%) of the population get up in the morning to dress in a uniform of the armed services. We still have troops around the world, however, and some of them are still dying for their country.
Veterans Day is November 11 and, because it falls on a Wednesday this year, I can’t help but wonder how many Americans will even think of its significance, or consider the millions of veterans who have served in our nation’s military services. At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, how many of us will stop what we are doing to give a moment’s thought or a silent prayer for those who serve in the military. It’s not a long weekend, after all, not really a holiday, and it’s easy to forget. But those who daily don a uniform, whether they serve at home or in a war zone, cannot forget.
The date and time commemorate the World War I armistice that was signed in a rail car in the forest of Compiegne, east of Paris, at 5 a.m. on a cold morning in 1918. It became effective six hours later — at 11 a.m. local time — and was for a period of 30 days, subsequently renewed many times. It represented a “ragged” peace, made even more so because the final peace treaty was not actually negotiated and agreed upon by all parties to the Great War until June of the following year.
The day was originally known as Armistice Day, and it is celebrated in France and other European nations as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom, where it is also known as Remembrance Day or Poppy Day.
The world was ready for peace. Unfortunately, the peace that seemed so hard won did not last all that long. And there have been, since then, far too few moments of worldwide peace. Perhaps all the more reason to remember those who serve daily in our armed services.
Veterans Day is more than a day to honor the dead — that occurs, in somber tribute, on Memorial Day in the spring. Veterans Day is, rather, the time to think of those who wear the uniform in both peace and war, those currently alive and those who served in the past. Because it falls just after election day, it is a good time to talk to children about the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, and to speak about patriotism and pride.
If you live in a city or town that has any sort of military museum, monument or memorial, November is a good month to visit, to think about the rights and privileges we all enjoy due to the continuing service of our service men and women. It gives us all a chance to think about history, and to forge the future that will become our legacy.