Veteran’s Day sees its 50th anniversary this year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Commentary by Gary Palmer

A significant anniversary is upon us that I hope will not be overshadowed by the political wars that are being fought across the nation. This November 11th will be the 50th anniversary of Veterans Day.

Veterans Day was initially observed as Armistice Day, a memorial to the end of the Great War, the war that would end all wars. But wars will never end, only civilizations, cultures and nations end when they lose the strength and will to fight when necessary. So it is fitting that we gratefully honor the Americans that fought our wars and those American soldiers today that still have the courage, will and clarity of purpose to fight when it is necessary.

Armistice Day was declared as a day to mark the anniversary of the armistice that was signed by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, marking the end of World War I. On Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 A.M., the Germans signed the Armistice and an order was issued for all firing to cease. So at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the bloodiest, most lethal conflict the world had ever seen came to an end with a truce.

Celebrations followed worldwide with high hopes that the world would never again see such carnage. A year later that hope was reflected in President Woodrow Wilson’s Armistice Day proclamation. President Wilson said, “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 nation.”

For sixteen years the United States formally observed Armistice Day, including ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which had been created in 1921 with the burial of the remains of an unknown World War I American soldier. In 1927, Congress sent a resolution to President Calvin Coolidge requesting him to issue a proclamation calling for the display of the American flag on all government buildings on November 11, and inviting the people to observe Armistice Day in schools and churches.

In communities all around the country there were parades and religious services to commemorate the dead. In some communities all traffic stopped at 11 A.M. and often volleys were fired and taps played in salute to those that gave their lives in the Great War. Despite all this, Armistice Day did not become an official national holiday until 1938 when Congress passed a bill declaring that each November 11 “shall be dedicated to the cause of world peace and … hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.”

It is interesting that this action was taken after the peace of the Versailles Treaty was lost. Germany had already rearmed and become a threat to Europe while England and France stood by. Once again the world would learn the hard truth that tyrants cannot be stopped with paper. World War II brought loss of life never before imagined. And when it ended, observance of Armistice Day had lost a great deal of meaning for millions of Americans.

Then, on the heels of World War II came the Korean War. And when it ended it became obvious to the American public and Congress that there should be a day to honor all veterans and not just those who fought in World War I. At the urging of the veterans service organizations, on May 24, 1954, Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day and on October 8, 1954, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe November 11th as a day to remember the sacrifices of all those who fought in all our wars.

Over the fifty years since President Eisenhower issued his call for a proper and widespread observance of this day, millions of American men and women have answered the call to arms in Vietnam, Grenada, Kuwait and now Afghanistan and Iraq. And so on November 11th we should echo the 1927 Congressional Resolution by observing Veterans Day in our schools and churches, in our government offices and our businesses and give honor, respect and sincere gratitude that is due every veteran.

For as George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their Nation.”

Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.