On the 11th month, at the 11th day, on the 11th hour in 1918, the deadliest war in world history ended. It is estimated that between 15 to 19 million soldiers died on both sides of the conflict. An even greater numbered were missing or wounded. Many of you have seen the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D. C. It has the names of 53,000 American soldiers who died during that conflict. If there was a similar memorial to the dead of WWI, it would take 300 such walls with their names. Over the four-year period of the war, on average, 10,000 soldiers died each day. It scarred the world with its loss and suffering.
President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the war’s damage and death with the following words on November 11, 1919.
“A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.
With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought.
Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.
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 nations.”
Congress adopted a resolution to commemorate Armistice Day on November 11 in 1926. The day was made a legal holiday in 1938. After the second world war ended, Raymond Weeks, a veteran from Birmingham Alabama had an idea to expand Armistice Day to recognize all veterans, not just those that died in WWI. Thus we honor on November 11th, all veterans living and dead who served honorably for our country.
Most veterans won’t talk much about their experiences as soldiers, airmen, or sailors. It remains buried in their minds and hearts as a sacred thing that took their buddies away in death, and to speak of it seems as a sacrilege. Decades after their service, a picture, word, or memory will bring a tear to their eye, and all they can do is silently say a prayer for their close companions taken in battle.
“Give honor to whom honor is due” says the good book. Every American enjoys the freedoms and abundance of this great country at the terrible expense of men and women they will never know, but who forfeited their lives for us. Lee Greenwood, the country singer, puts it this way – “and I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free, and I won’t forget the ones who died to give that right to me.” If you know a veteran or see a soldier over the next few days, why not call or say thank you, it will mean the world to them.