I’m old enough to remember, when I was in grade school, turning and facing east and observing one minute of silence at 11:00 on November 11. This was done in observance of Armistice Day, commemorating those who served in World War One, because the armistice that was signed on November 11, 1918, ended the War effective 11:00, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Armistice Day was created, as most war memorials are, to ensure that “we never forget”, in this case the courage and bravery of those who served in that horrific and bloody war.
I was in grade school in the late 60s, or about 50 years after the end of World War One, so there were still plenty of living veterans of that war. Now it is closer to 100 years after the war ended, and the last living survivor died a couple of years ago.
In 1971, Armistice Day was changed to Veteran’s Day, a day to honor the sacrifice of all those who served, not just the World War One veterans. This makes sense, as that honor has certainly been earned, and no matter how much we claim to “support our troops”, the truth is that those of us who never served ALL take the courage and sacrifice of those who have for granted. They deserve a day to be honored, and anyone who ever served in any branch of the military should be given that day off. Anything we can do to acknowledge the sacrifices they made on our behalf should be done, because nothing we do will ever be enough to repay them.
Despite this, I can’t help but feel that Veterans Day should be some other day, and that Armistice Day should still be observed, that we should still face the east and observe a moment of silence at 11:00 on November 11. Because we don’t observe Armistice Day, we have forgotten about World War 1. Here is a reminder: over 15 million soldiers and civilians were killed and another 20 million wounded in World War 1. That’s more than 35 million. There was the horror of gas and chemical warfare. There were weeks and months spent in muddy and cold trenches. There was brutal hand to hand combat.
And there is no one left to tell us what that was all like. One of the original goals of Armistice Day was to never forget. Yet the vast majority of the country that is younger than me knows nothing of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. People don’t know about facing east in a moment of silence. And they don’t know that that moment of silence was intended to remind us all not just of the glory and valor of those who served, but also of the fact that there were more than 35 million casualties. It is our ability to forget about the real and tragic costs of war that makes it too easy to start new ones.
To all of you who have served, please accept my humble appreciation and sincere gratitude, and I hope Veteran’s Day brings you some comfort. I’d ask that you join me in facing east for one silent moment at 11:00, out of respect for our grandfathers and great grandfathers, and for our grandchildren.