Every year, 11 November is set aside as the day that we celebrate Veterans Day. The purpose of the day is to pay honor and tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces who have either served, or are currently serving this great nation of ours by putting their lives on the line to defend and protect the freedoms that we so dearly cherish. Have you ever wondered why this day is celebrated only on 11 November? Let us take a brief look back into the annals of history and see how this day came to be.
World War I was known as “The Great War.” The war officially ended on 28 June 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. The actual fighting; however, had ceased seven months earlier when an armistice or temporary cessation of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It is for that reason, 11 November 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed 11 November as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words:
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.
Originally the celebration was to be a day observed with parades and public meetings, with a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved 13 May 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” The day was primarily set aside to honor the veterans of World War I. However, in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in the nation’s history, and after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the Veterans Service Organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on 1 June 1954, 11 November became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Whether we agree or disagree with the conflicts that our nation may be engaged in, we must never forget these valiant soldiers who stand a vigilant watch by day and by night, by land, by air, and by sea. They make great sacrifices to defend “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” These ordinary, but yet extraordinary men and women, are husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We must remember them, and we must also remember the families that they leave behind as they go off on assignments to foreign lands with the hopes of returning home one day soon, but also with the realization that they may not make it back home.
Someone has once said, “Freedom is never free.” As a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy veteran I can personally attest to the validity of that statement. Freedom carries with it a hefty price tag. That price is often paid by the spilt blood of those men and women who are willing to give their all to defend the cause of freedom today, freedom tomorrow, and freedom forever. We say that these men and women are brave and courageous; however, as the English writer, G.K. Chesterton so aptly put it, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” But, as Elmer Davis, a well-known news reporter, author, and the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II reminded us, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” These men and women are true patriots. They are men and women of valor. They are in many ways the unsung heroes of the world. When we look up the word hero in a dictionary, each of their names should be listed as examples of what a true hero is.
George Canning, a British statesman and politician who served as Foreign Secretary and briefly as Prime Minister, once asked a very forthright question. He asked, “When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” I would hope that each of us would be able to answer that question with a resounding “NO!” In times of conflict, as well as, in times of peace, and not only on 11 November, but each and every day, we should pay honor to the men and women who don the military uniform and serve their country faithfully and honorably. Indeed, we should salute them. And let us not forget to include them in our daily prayers that the Lord will watch over them, protect them, and sustain them. Let us also remember as President John Fitzgerald Kennedy told us, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Finally, on this Veterans Day, and every day, we pay special honor to those who with their last ounce of courage gave their all that we might forever remain free. I speak of those fallen heroes who with the last full measure of their devotion gave the greatest sacrifice of all – their lives. May God bless all of those who have served, are now serving, and will one day serve to preserve our great nation. And may God bless the United Sates of America. Semper fidelis Deo et patria!