The eleventh hour, the eleventh day of the eleventh month an Armistice Agreement ended fighting in the “war to end all wars”. While the Treaty of Versailles would not be finished and signed for months, Armistice Day, now known as Veteran’s Day, is celebrated on November 11th. The first observance of Armistice Day in the United States was held in 1919. President Woodrow Wilson said “To us 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…”
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veteran’s Day proclamation acknowledging the holiday as a day of observance of the courage and sacrifice of all veterans. Many communities honor our veterans with a moment of silence at 11am, military parades and the wearing of poppies.
The famous poem In Flanders Fields By John McCrae reminds us of the sacrifice behind the symbol of the poppy:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
When I was 15 years old, I traveled to France. I spent a day at Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and the American Cemetery at Normandy. It was a profoundly moving experience to see the bunkers, to imagine the courage of the men of the invasion and to see the rows of white crosses of the graves of the fallen. As an adult, I visited the National Cemetery in Arlington, VA and visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These spaces, with their somber reminder of the enormous cost of our freedoms, move many people to tears.
I am glad that we have Veterans Day. I wear the poppy. I am silent at 11am. On this day my family shares the stories of those we have loved who have given so much. We honor my grandmother’s brother who lost his life in France and earned the Purple Heart for his actions there. We honor my father’s gentle uncle Earl who served in WWII as well. We honor my father’s service in Korea. We celebrate the survival of my uncle John who served multiple tours in Vietnam.
I encourage you today to write down the stories of your family and those who have served both in the military and on the home front. Pass them on to your children and your grandchildren. May they always be remembered.