One hundred years.
History was one of my favorite classes when I was a school girl. Unlike a math or science book, a history text is filled with stories of adventure and intrigue. Some events happened so long ago, that they don’t seem real, such as the adventures of King Richard the Lionhearted during the Crusades, or of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. These events happened so long ago that they feel more fiction than truth.
I felt that “the Great War” was an event that happened in the far away past. That is, until I realized one day, that my father was born during the middle of those war years. That also meant my grandparents were alive during one of the most catastrophic wars in history. My mother’s father was a cook in the US Army in the first decade of the 20th century but left the Army before the outbreak of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” I remember hearing my grandmother talk about the 1918 flu epidemic. I recently learned that it came about as a consequence of WWI. Those insights made it personal. Sadly, my grandparents were gone before I thought to ask questions.
WWI was one of the deadliest conflicts in history. Ten million military personnel perished. 8 million civilians died, which included about 6 million who died because of war-related famine and disease. The total number of military and civilian casualties, deceased or injured, was about 40 million.
Fighting ended with a temporary termination, called an armistice, between the Allied nations and Germany. It went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. November 11, 1918, is generally considered to be end of “the war to end all wars” but the war officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919.
In November of 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day with the following: “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…”
Celebration of WWI veterans was to be observed with parades, public meetings and a moment of reflection at 11:00am.
In 1938, an act of Congress made the 11th of November a legal holiday -a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace, to honor veterans of World War I, and to be known as “Armistice Day.” In 1954, after World War II and the involvement in Korea, the 83rd Congress amended the 1938 Act by changing the word “Armistice” to “Veterans.” November 11th became a day to honor all American veterans of all wars.
In 1968 the Uniform Holiday Bill was passed with the intention of making three-day weekends out of all federal holidays for Federal employees. It was thought that the longer weekends would stimulate the economy by encouraging travel, recreation and cultural activities. But the significance of the Veterans Day date is important for historic and patriotic reasons and the public demanded a return to the original date. In 1975 President Ford returned the annual celebration of Veterans Day to November 11th. According to the Veterans Administration’s website: “The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day, a U.S. public holiday in May. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service. Armed Forces Day, also in May, honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.
My daughter is a Navy veteran. My son followed his father into the Air Force. My kids have both served in the Middle East. I’ve been in public with my adult children while they were in uniform and people have stopped them to thank them for their service and for their willingness to lay down their lives for the freedoms of their fellow Americans. My heart swells with pride.
That wasn’t always the case. My husband went into ROTC towards the end of the contentious Vietnam War. We were just college kids then, but I remember watching student protests on the San Francisco State campus and fearing for Jeff’s safety. Students threw food at ROTC members in the cafeteria. Catcalls and swear words rained down on the young cadets when they walked across campus in uniform. Nationwide, servicemen were told not to wear their uniforms off base for their own protection. The general public was not appreciative of their men and women in uniform for too many years.
The fact that many of today’s servicemen and women are the children and grandchildren of those Vietnam veterans tells you a lot about the character of our military members. They stayed the course against the odds. Their honor, integrity and devotion to our country have been passed on. Unfortunately it took a horrific event like 9/11 for the American public to once again understand and appreciate the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform.
One hundred years ago an armistice was signed ending “the war to end all wars.” Sunday is the eleventh day of the eleventh month. At the eleventh hour please take a moment to reflect and celebrate all veterans through the ages who have been willing to put their lives on the line for peace, freedom and justice in the world. And please pray for peace in every corner of this ever shrinking planet.
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is planning a special ceremony at 11am on November 11 at the Soldier’s Memorial Monument in Pleasant Hill. I encourage you to attend.
On Monday, November 12, the City of Martinez will commemorate Veterans Day.
At 10:00 am at Alhambra Cemetery, Carquinez Scenic Drive, there will be a benediction, placing of wreath and Sea Cadets posting colors.
The service resumes at 11:00 am at the Martinez All-Veterans Monument, on the corner of Berrellessa Street at Alhambra Avenue, with remarks from public officials, a keynote speaker, patriotic music, 21-gun salute, and taps.
A free brunch for the public hosted by the Martinez American Legion Post 29 follows at about noon in the Veterans Memorial Building, 930 Ward Street. (AmericanLegionPost29.shutterfly.com) Entertainment during brunch will be provided by the 30-piece Diablo Regional Concert Band (DiabloRegionalConcert Band.com)
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will have a veterans recognition ceremony on Tuesday, November 13. The public is encouraged to attend. The ceremony will take place in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 651 Pine Street in Martinez starting at 11am.
The keynote speaker will be Afghanistan War and Iraq War veteran Lieutenant Colonel Mike Hudson, USMC (retired). Refreshments will follow at the Martinez Veterans Memorial Building, 930 Ward Street at approximately 12pm Shuttle transportation will be provided to and from the event. Please call 925-313-1481 for shuttle details.