At 11 o’clock in the morning on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, The Great War — the war that later, sadly, would become known as the First World War — came to an end when Germany ceased hostilities against its American, British and French adversaries, followed by the June signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
It had been a long, bloody conflict, kicked off four years before in Sarajevo, Serbia, when a Serb nationalist assassinated Crown Prince Ferdinand of the Austrian empire. With the familial and political ties between the various powers of Europe, war soon began. From Africa to the Middle East and Asia, battles between the great powers were fought; in Moscow, the 400-year-old Romanov dynasty fell, in part because of its disastrous involvement in the conflict. The war only creaked to an end when the United States entered on the side of Great Britain and France.
The next November, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, in commemoration of the end of The Great War. Nineteen years later, in 1938 and on the eve of yet another bloody global conflict, Congress declared Armistice Day an official federal holiday.
In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower approved changing the holiday’s name to Veterans Day, in honor of all American troops who have answered their nation’s call to arms to protect the nation and democracy.
The men — and later, women — who have worn the uniform of their nation are a special group of people. Whether drafted in times of conflict or volunteering in times of peace and prosperity, they show the world the power of an idea, the power of the dream America stands for: democracy and the equality of all people under the law.
To some folks, that may sound “corny” and trite. To others, it may sound sappy and ring just a bit hollow, given how often America has fallen short of its potential.
But ask a veteran of WWII how it felt when American troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald in April 1945 or when the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Ask a veteran of the first Gulf War about the outpouring of gratitude from Kuwaitis when America liberated their country from the grip of Saddam Hussein.
But as much as America claims to honor its veterans, we have a poor way of showing it sometimes. Look at the reception vets returning from Vietnam received in the 1960s; look at the underfunded Veterans Administration health care system; look at the poor pay the average serviceman receives. We may make films of medal-winning heroes of long-ago battles, but are we doing all we can to to keep today’s volunteer warriors from having to go war in the first place?
Veterans Day is a day to honor those who have served, but as we salute those who have worn the uniform, we need to ask ourselves one question: Are we truly worthy of these great men and women, especially this Veterans Day 2019?