World War I was a brutal conflict that killed 8.5 million of the 65 million men who fought from 1914-1918 (PBS WWI Casualty and Death Tables). An armistice halted fighting on November 11, 1918, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 officially ended the war. In November of 1919, 1 year after the ceasefire, President Wilson proclaimed November 11th to be Armistice Day. He said in his dedication speech: “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…” (Department of Veterans Affairs). In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veteran’s Day to honor veterans of all wars, not just WWI.
What It’s Really About
As a former service member myself, I know what I’m about to write may ruffle some feathers, but bear with me: I believe that this day should be about focusing on those who served and are still here. Memorial Day is in place to pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Instead, today, let’s think about everyone – both military and civilian – who’s been of service: from the active duty members to the W.A.V.E.S and W.A.S.P., from the engineers and Merchant Marines to the ordinary people who worked a spectrum of jobs.
Doing Something More
Today there are over 21 million veterans in the workforce (Bureau of Labor Statistics), and it may surprise you to learn the important roles some of them have played in our society. For instance, Bob Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, was a Naval Reserve Officer; Neal Armstrong, best known as the first man on the moon, was a Naval Aviator; and we can’t forget that John Glenn, one of the first men to go into space, was also a Marine Officer. Last week at least 22 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans won their races on election night (Navy Times, Nov 5th).
Away from the spotlight, the number of veterans living with physical and emotional reminders of their service is at an all-time high. It is easy to lose sight of these patriots when they are no longer at the front lines, which is why today has to be about more than just memories. When our veterans walk amongst us, it is our responsibility to not forget everything they have done (and often given up) in service of this country.
So as you watch the parades, or hear the President speak at Arlington National Cemetery, or rock out to the Concert for Valor, take a moment to reflect upon what veterans have meant to this country, and then go visit a VA hospital and say hello. You could be the person who makes this day more meaningful for them.