As Veteran’s Day draws near let’s take a moment to reflect on what the day means. The name of course implies the day is set aside to honor Veterans, but it is easy to understand why there seems to be some confusion about what exactly we are celebrating.
The name has been changed; it was initially “Armistice Day”. The date we observe Veterans Day has gone through a series of modifications before returning to the original date. Even the purpose of the day has somewhat changed.
Just to set the record straight, we now honor all Veterans on Nov. 11, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany.
Armistice is Latin and translates “to stand (still) arms,” An armistice is a formal agreement by both sides to stop fighting until terms can be peacefully negotiated.
With an intense four years of World War I, it was clear to Germany throughout a series of battles in 1918, they were being defeated. With little strength or hope left, and rather than surrender, Germany asked allies to sign an Armistice.
The date was Nov. 11, 1918. It was the eleventh day of the eleventh month and at the eleventh hour when all nations had agreed to stop fighting while the terms could be determined. Composing the document required a bit of time. The Treaty of Versailles formally ending the war, was signed seven months following the armistice, on June 28, 1919, by Germany and the Allied Nations.
The year was 1938, almost 20 years later, when legislature dedicated Nov. 11 “to the cause of world peace, to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day,’ ” honoring World War I Veterans.
America had endured both World War II and the Korean War, when Veteran service organizations urged the 83rd U.S. Congress to amend the Act of 1938 by deleting the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American Veterans of all wars.
The date was changed with the Uniforms Holiday Bill in 1968, which warranted three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Under this bill, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. However there were many states to disagree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971.
It was President Gerald R. Ford, who signed a law Sept. 20, 1975, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. Since then, the Veterans Day holiday has been observed on Nov. 11.
With all those changes, perhaps one of the most important things to remember about Veteran’s Day is how to keep an atrocity like WWI from ever happening again.
It is unfathomable to comprehend the loss of human life throughout WWI. Statistics vary, but Wikipedia implies the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I were about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.
The total number of deaths includes from nine to 11 million military personnel. The civilian death toll was about eight million, including about six million due to war-related famine and disease. The Triple Entente (also known as the Allies) lost about six million military personnel while the Central Powers lost about four million. At least two million died from diseases and six million went missing, presumed dead.
We dare not forget. We cannot forget.
The other most important thing to remember is to honor and show appreciation to all Veterans, whether they are active duty, reserve, or retired. We of course want to commemorate those who died for our freedom, (officially Memorial Day) and we honor them as well on Veterans Day, but let’s make sure our living Veterans know how much they mean to us; all of them, young and old, men and women, those who served in combat zones and those who serve in times of peace, those who served a few years or those who made it a career - all of them. They and their families have all sacrificed various amenities to keep us safe and free.
With more than 19 million military veterans living in the United States today, certainly everyone knows someone who has served. Finding a way that is meaningful to express gratitude for all they have given, isn’t at all difficult and can be expressed any day of the year.
A list of 45 things one can do to honor a veteran was developed by the Behavioral Health Staff at the Spokane VA Medical Center. They are all great ways to show we care, but I’m especially fond of suggestion number 37… “Take a moment to reflect on what it means to live in America.” (See the list on page 8A of this week’s issue.)
Then, thank a Veteran!