The Great War ended on paper, on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles. Fighting had ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, seven months earlier — Armistice Day. That’s why Islanders will pause on Monday to mark the gift of freedom given them by so many veterans of so many conflicts. Sadly, World War I was not “the war to end all wars,” and sadly, veterans to whom we and other Americans owe so much continue to fill the ranks of those who earn this annual acknowledgement.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the first Armistice Day. “To us,” he said, ” in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
Armistice Day became Veterans Day. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day, and called upon Americans everywhere to rededicate themselves to the cause of peace. He issued a presidential order directing the head of the Veterans Administration (now called the Department of Veterans Affairs), to form a Veterans Day National Committee to organize and oversee the national observance of Veterans Day.
Or course, parades and public ceremonies are in order, but privately, memories of soldiers and loved ones, lost, damaged, and changed forever by their experiences have a particular claim on the hearts of all of us. Veterans Day is no longer Armistice Day, but it is not Memorial Day either. Veterans Day is not observed to honor those who have died in the nation’s defense. On Veterans Day, we honor all American veterans, living and dead, but at its heart, the reason for Veterans Day is to thank living veterans for their service to their country and to us. Parades and public ceremonies serve that purpose, but so do personal gestures, one of us to another, so that veterans hear our appreciation of the sacrifices they have made. The Department of Veterans Affairs advises, “One of the most personal and meaningful Veterans Day activities for people is to send notes or cards to hospitalized veterans or those living in veterans homes. Or, better yet, visit a veteran in a veterans hospital or veterans home. The best way to have a ‘happy Veterans Day’ is to do something special to make a veteran happy.”
We can do that.