"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…"
With those words, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the first Armistice Day Nov. 11, 1919.
The “war to end all wars,” as Wilson had proclaimed it and as many wished fervently would be true, had ended one year before with an armistice signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Now, nearly a century later, we know of the naïve futility of that hope that the Great War had indeed ended all wars. Wilson’s dream of a League of Nations that would intercede in brewing international disputes to forestall another armed conflict was never realized. Barely a generation after the World War ended it had to add a Roman numeral, to become World War I to make way in the history books for the even more brutal, deadly and devastating World War II.
But if Wilson’s dream of peace was an illusion, his commemoration of a day to show our “solemn pride in the history of those who died in the country’s service” not only has lived on, it has broadened and deepened into Veterans Day, a day when we honor all veterans, living and dead, of all our wars.
The broader observance was enshrined in 1954 when, according to the Veterans Administration website, “World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations,” Congress passed Public Law 380 establishing Veterans Day.
Today that day falls by happenstance on a Monday, creating for many a three-day weekend. Congress tried briefly to make Veterans Day one of our always-on-Monday holidays in the early 1970s, but the move met with such popular disfavor it soon was again celebrated on its actual day.
So today, with parades and ceremonies, dampened eyes and bowed heads, in crowds or solitarily, we’ll honor our veterans – 21.2 million of them last year, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. A rapidly dwindling number of those, of course, are the World War II cohort, only 1.6 million strong a year ago and falling rapidly to mortality .
Others served in Korea, or Vietnam, or in one of the Iraq wars, or Afghanistan – or simply stood guard during peacetime to assure our armed forces were ready when needed to fulfill the role to which all veterans have contributed, to ensure our safety and freedom.
Today, to all 20-million plus men and women who have served their country, we offer our gratitude and our respect.