Veteran’s Day evolved in the years following World War I, or “The Great War,” as it was known at the time. The Great War, a war to end all wars, ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918 when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of the war to end all wars. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday by an act of Congress.
World War I or “The Great War” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, at the Palace of Versailles, France, when all warring powers executed a formal declaration of peace. Fighting, however, had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The major players on the stage of history at this time were known as The Big Three: President Woodrow Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain and President Georges Clemenceau of France. Pfc. Henry Gunther will be remembered as the last soldier to die on Nov. 11, 1918 with one minute remaining before the armistice would end all conflict. This otherwise unknown man would charge a German machine gun encampment disregarding their attempts to wave him back, knowing that in a matter of seconds they could all leave their trenches and once again breathe the soft air of peace. Gunther fell after a short blast of fire joining the 116,000 of his fellow American comrades that died in that war.
The last surviving U.S. World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, age 109, died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2011. In December 2010, he appeared before Congress to plead for the approval of a memorial to honor those American soldiers who died in the Great War. He had enlisted at the age of 16, but his service to his country did not end there. He also served in World War II and was captured by the Japanese, enduring the infamous Bataan Death March. He survived three years in a Japanese prison camp, weighing only 85 pounds when he was finally liberated.
November 11 continued to be observed as Armistice Day until 1954 when, at the urging of the veterans’ organizations, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an act of Congress on June 1, 1954 formally changing the word “Armistice” to “Veterans” in order to expand the significance of that (Armistice Day) celebration and in order that a grateful nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this nation.
In 1968, Congress moved Veteran’s Day to the fourth Monday in November, but returned it to its traditional date in 1978 after heavy lobbying by veterans groups and concerned citizens, who believed that moving the observance to create a three-day holiday only served to take the focus off the historical significance of the day. The original concept for the commemoration was for a day observed with parades and public gatherings and a brief suspension of business at 11 a.m. At New York Stock Exchange, trading stopped at 11 am for a 2-minute silence. Unfortunately, we have gotten away from that original concept, and many people look upon November 11 as simply a day off from work to relax or take advantage of store sales and forget that the reason the day was set aside was to honor our nation’s veterans.
Throughout the history of our great nation, courageous men and women have served in the armed forces to secure, defend and maintain the freedoms upon which our nation was founded. They represent the finest in the American character who answered our country’s call during WWII, suffered through biting cold winters and scorching summers in Korea, endured booby-trapped jungles and steamy heat in Vietnam and are currently fighting in the unforgiving mountains in Afghanistan and the deserts in Iraq. They came from all walks of life, religions and ethnic backgrounds. Right now, members of our armed forces are putting their lives on the line in the war against terrorism, and hardly a day goes by when there is not a report of one or more of these brave soldiers paying the ultimate price. Their sacrifices have given us the freedom we enjoy today which is why we remember and salute their service.
On Nov. 11, our country honors all veterans and active duty soldiers on Veteran’s Day. We remember Henry Gunther and Frank Buckles and all those who laid down their lives in the defense of freedom and pray that our brave men and women, now serving in our armed services, return to us and lead long, safe and productive lives.
Photo: Veterans’ Honor Rose from my garden
Until next time. Stop and smell the roses.
Rosalinda Morgan, The Rose Lady
Author and Garden Writer