Posted 11/09/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
On Friday, Nov. 11, people across the United States will pause to honor the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who have honorably served in this country’s armed forces.
Today, we know the date as Veterans Day. But that hasn’t always been the case. In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans.
Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on Nov. 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day.”
Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar Congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was “the War to end all Wars,” Nov. 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. 16,500,000 Americans took part; 407,000 of them died in service and more than 292,000 in battle.
Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of World War II and Korea, Congress was asked to make this day an occasion to honor those who have served America in all wars. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming Nov. 11 as Veterans Day.
Since the Korean Conflict, American servicemen and women have continued to answer the call for freedom as they have left their families to help bring freedom in Vietnam, Granada, across Europe, Africa and today, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While history has recorded the epic battles of the past wars, by and large servicemen and servicewomen choose not to talk about the horrors of battle and the time that they spent in service of this country’s freedom. After their time of military service to the country was over, they returned to their civilian life and they became doctors, lawyers, bankers and the person just down the street. They became our teachers, our neighbors and our friends.
But more importantly, they became our heroes. And as such, on this Veterans Day say “thank you” to a veteran. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.