The long, long road to our Nov. 11 Veterans Day tradition

“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…”

— Pres. Woodrow Wilson, November 11, 1919

By Stephan Drew

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Tomorrow is Veterans Day and this particular holiday has a very interesting history. Many people don’t even know that wasn’t the original name of this holiday. Over 100 years ago, World War I ended. The first world war actually began as a family squabble. The heads of the major ruling houses on Earth were all related. The King of England, Tsar of Russia, Kaiser of Germany and Emperor of Austria-Hungary were all cousins. And they were all very jealous of each other. Because of their pride, greed and corruption, the entire world was plunged into a deadly conflict. Millions died, millions more were injured, and, all but one of those rulers lost their thrones. It was known as “The Great War” because no one believed any future war could ever be larger or more devastating. It was also known as “The War to End All Wars” because of its harshness and brutality. After experiencing such destruction, horror and bloodshed, it was assumed that no sane leader could ever wish to experience war again. In fact, the cease-fire was timed precisely for this effect. The cessation of hostilities (Armistice) was planned for the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month — Eleven o’clock on Nov. 11, 1918. The day and time chosen was very symbolic. At the “eleventh hour,” the world (which could have easily fallen into destruction and despair) was rescued from the abyss of evil. A year later, in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day. It was decided that all business and other activities around the country would stop for two minutes, beginning at 11 a.m., to honor those who served. The day was also marked by public speeches, parades and celebrations. In November 1920, France and the United Kingdom held ceremonies honoring their unknown dead. President Wilson proclaimed the Sunday nearest to Nov. 11th as “Armistice Sunday” and encouraged the country to hold prayers services for international peace. By 1921, Congress declared Armistice Day a day of remembrance to honor all who had fought in the war. They also passed legislation to create a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Ceremonies were held and, according to reports of the time, the festivities were very successful. By 1926, Armistice Day celebrations were frequently held and familiar to most people. By the 1930s, most states had established Nov. 11 as a legal holiday and an annual proclamation was issued by the president. On May 13, 1938, Congress made Nov. 11 a legal federal holiday. Although we celebrated Armistice Day into the 1940s, it seemed to diminish in meaning because it was supposed to commemorate the cessation of fighting and, here we were in another global conflict. World War II and the Korean War created millions more war veterans, in addition to those honored by World War I’s Armistice Day. On June 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation which changed the name of the legal holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor those who served in all wars. Fourteen years later, in 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law, establishing the fourth Monday in October as the new date for the observance of Veterans Day. The new law took effect in 1971 but not everyone observed this change. During the early 1970s, many states continued to observe Nov. 11 as Veterans Day. By 1975, 46 states were disregarding the new law and remained faithful to the original commemorative date. So Congress passed legislation to return the federal observance of Veterans Day to Nov. 11. This law took effect in 1978. Since then, we have honored our veterans each year on this date. Other countries have what they call Remembrance Day celebrations. In France, the grave of their Unknown Soldier lies at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. Germany’s is within a 19th century guardhouse in Berlin. Italy’s lies in the Piazza Venezia in Rome. Britain has a Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in London and there are similar memorial sites in Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Russia, Spain and about 50 other countries around the world, including Iran and Iraq. We are not alone in honoring those who served to protect us. They gave us their time, their sweat, blood, tears and, in many cases, their lives. We owe them much more than we could ever give them in return. Long ago we, as a country, promised our military personnel that, if they gave us 20 years or more of service, they would receive a pension, benefits and complete healthcare coverage, all for free because of their sacrifices. The old saying was, “Give us 20 years and we’ll give you a free ride the rest of your lives.” Many signed up and many served, trusting and believing in that promise. Well, since 1976, there have been numerous changes and a constant decrease in benefits nearly every fiscal period for the past 45 years. The most drastic changes happened in 1994, when Congress decided to link their healthcare coverage with Medicare and other benefit programs. Now, our military veterans have to pay for their own medical care out of their well-earned retirement. This is not what we promised them and it is far less than we owe them. We originally guaranteed them FREE medical care and non-taxable retirement benefits. But we have not kept our word to these brave men and women who gave all they had to protect us and keep us safe. So this year, as we celebrate their service and thank them for our safety and prosperity, let us remember how short we have come in fulfilling our pledge. May we dedicate our future to securing and upholding our promises to these courageous souls. Many of our soldiers in graves and tombs may be “unknown” but we should never let them be “unremembered” or “unrewarded. I urge you all to support our military with all you have. We should thank them for our safety each and every day and always remember that we owe them much, much more than they have actually been given. This Veterans Day, I will spend my time thinking of their great sacrifices, praying for them and their families and trying to find new ways to keep our promises. I hope you will too. They kept their word. They lived up to their promise. We need to do the same. Happy Veterans Day, everyone. May God richly bless your lives and may He bless the United States of America forever and ever.

Author: Rachel Howell

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