Wednesday, November 11, 2015
On the Eleventh
A commemoration sparked by an event occurring on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month sounds much less sobering to us today than it must have been, subsequent to that original cease fire in 1918. A time to revel in the end of the horrifying "War to End All Wars," it received its first designation as Armistice Day in 1919.
The British beat us to it—owing partly to their head start via time zones—conducting the world's first official observance at Buckingham Palace on November 11, 1919. With President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation later that same day, the United States joined other Allied nations in recognizing "the heroism of those who died in the country's service."
Following the war after the War to End All Wars, a World War II veteran led a delegation that met with then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, urging Americans to expand the holiday to encompass recognition of all veterans, not just those who died during the first World War. After becoming president—and eight years after the first push to re-envision the commemoration—General Eisenhower signed a bill into law, establishing the day as a national holiday. In the same year—1954—Congress also changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
That hasn't been the end of all wars, of course. Neither has it been the end of seeing our nation's sons and daughters do their part in serving our country in the branches of our military. Collectively, we are commemorating an untold number of veterans—both those still with us, and those upon whose graves we place wreaths of remembrance.
Though our own family has members who have served in the military—those reading along here at A Family Tapestry for the long term will remember Frank Stevens' letters home from the Pacific during World War II—they have mostly been relatives on my husband's side of the family. While I have a grand-uncle and a cousin who served in the Air Force, none in my direct line were of an age to serve during the first or second World War. Because of that, while exceedingly grateful for the sacrifices of others, I am not sensitized to the experience of having someone close serve during war time. I can, however, appreciate how harrowing that must have felt for family members back home during times of international conflict.
Whether you've lived through the years when loved ones went far across oceans to serve our country—and, perhaps, never returned home again—or never lived through those eras, yourself, that service provided by our veterans has touched us all. And made a difference. One for which we can all be grateful.
Above: General John J. Pershing salutes at White House on Armistice Day circa 1938; photograph from the Harris and Ewing Collection, courtesy United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.