The Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. reminds us: “Freedom is not free!” Americans have long understood this, and across the generations, millions of men and women — serving as soldiers, sailors, and airmen — have chose to serve their fellow citizens by entering the U.S. military. They have been willing to give their time, talents, and even their lives to protect America and her cherished freedoms. To honor these courageous patriots, November 11, is set aside as Veteran’s Day.
World War I, then normally referred to simply as The Great War (no one could imagine any war being greater!), ended with the implementation of an armistice [temporary cessation of hostilities — in this case until the final peace treaty, the infamous Treaty of Versailles, was signed in 1919] between the Allies and Germany at 11 AM on November 11, 1918.
The following year November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaims the first Armistice Day to commemorate the peace. The original concept for the celebration was for the suspension of business for a two minute period beginning at 11 AM, with the day also marked by parades and public meetings.
On the second anniversary of the armistice, France and the United Kingdom hold ceremonies honoring their unknown dead from the war. In America, at the suggestion of church groups, President Wilson names the Sunday nearest Armistice Day, on which be held worship services in the interest of international peace.
Congress passed legislation approving the establishment of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, declaring November 11, 1921 a legal holiday to hold the ceremony and to honor all those who participated in the war.
Congress passes legislation on May 13, 1938 making November 11 a legal Federal holiday, Armistice Day. World War II and the Korean War create millions of additional war veterans in addition to those of the First World War veterans already honored by Armistice Day.
On June 1, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs legislation changing the name of the legal holiday from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day.
Respecting our soldiers has long been part of our American fabric of life. For example, President Abraham Lincoln said:
Honor to the Soldier and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor also to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field, and serves, as he best can, the same cause — honor to him . . . who braves for the common good the storms of heaven and the storms of battle.
He similarly declared:
I am indeed very grateful to the brave men who have been struggling with the enemy in the field, to their noble commanders who have directed them, and especially to our Maker . . . we should, above all, be very grateful to Almighty God, Who gives us victory.”
This Veteran’s Day, be sure to thank a veteran for their service. Perhaps even take time out of your day to visit some veterans at a local nursing home, where sometimes many have been tragically abandoned or have no family members remaining. And let’s also remember those who sacrificed so much for us across the centuries, from the American Revolution to the current War on Terror. May we never cease to be thankful — and to express that gratitude — for those who are willing to give so much for the rest of us.