Let Us Solemnly Remember

Photo of Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial in Roger Williams Park, RI, hosted by  Operation Stand Down  Rhode Island. Courtesy of Matthew Huang, 2016.

Photo of Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial in Roger Williams Park, RI, hosted by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. Courtesy of Matthew Huang, 2016.

Tomorrow. November 11th. Do you know what the day signifies? 

In Great Britain and the Commonwealth, November 11th is known as Remembrance Day.

In the United States, we call it Veterans Day.

Its roots are the same. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the Armistice was signed between Germany and the Allied Forces in Rethondes, France, signifying the end of World War One. 

On the first year anniversary, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the day, calling it Armistice Day, and beginning the tradition of honoring those who had fought in what was then thought to be the war to end all wars. 

In 1921, following the examples of Britain and France, Congress approved the erection of the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. On November 11th, 1921, a unnamed soldier killed in France was officially interred there in a ceremony officiated by President Warren Harding. As the inscription on the back of the tomb reads, Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God. On that day, November 11th was officially inaugurated as the day to be set aside to honor all those who had served in WW1. 

The Sentinel's Creed 

They are the race— 
they are the race immortal, 
Whose beams make broad
the common light of day! 
Though Time may dim, 
though Death has barred their portal, 
These we salute, 
which nameless passed away.

- Victoria Regina by Laurence Housman

In 1938, Congress made November 11th a legal federal holiday “to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”

Sadly, as we all know too well, the First World War was not the war that would end all wars. In only a few short years, the United States would be plunged into the horrors of World War Two, fighting on multiple fronts against many foes united under the Axis powers. Suddenly, the honored veterans were no longer from one war, but two.

It was on November 11th, 1947, when a WW2 veteran named Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, organized the first Veterans Day celebration in his hometown. In 1953, the citizen of Emporia, Kansas officially changed Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day so that all the veterans who had served the nation would be honored. It was Kansas Congressman Edward H. Rees who proposed legislation in Congress to change the name, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the amendment to the Act of 1938. 

WHEREAS it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace; and WHEREAS in the intervening years the United States has been involved in two other great military conflicts, which have added millions of veterans living and dead to the honor rolls of this Nation. . . . NOW, THEREFORE, I, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day.
— (Proclamation 3071: Veterans Day 1954)

My family has a rich military background on both maternal and paternal sides. I also have multiple members and friends who have or are currently serving today. It is because of their heroic lifestyle of service that I believe strongly in the integrity and importance of this day. However, I know that I can never know nor express gratitude amply enough for the sacrifices made by these men and women. But I can take several moments and reflect over the well chosen words of many others who have served and have eloquently declaimed the strength, rectitude, and honor of their brothers and sisters in arms.

From the 1941 speech delivered by Franklin D. Roosevelt on Armistice Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers:

‘What did it get you?’ People who asked that question of Sergeant York and his comrades forgot the one essential fact which every man who looks can see today. They forgot that the danger which threatened this country in 1917 was real—and that the sacrifice of those who died averted that danger. Because the danger was overcome they were unable to remember that the danger had been present. Because our armies were victorious they demanded why our armies had fought. Because our freedom was secure they took the security of our freedom for granted and asked why those who died to save it should have died at all… Sergeant York spoke thus of the cynics and the doubters: ‘The thing they forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win them once and stop. Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them.’

From Douglas MacArthur’s 1962 address at West Point Academy to 2,100 cadets upon his receipt of the Sylvanus Thayer Award, an honor given to an individual “whose outstanding character, accomplishments, and stature in the civilian community draw wholesome comparison to the qualities for which West Point strives, in keeping with its motto: ‘Duty, Honor, Country’”:

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words—Duty—Honor—Country. This does not mean that you are war mongers. On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers, ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’

From a speech deliver to the Semper Fi Society in St Louis by General John F. Kelly, a mere four days after the loss of his son in combat: (A little context is necessary for this quote. Kelly chronicles the death of two Marines who stood watch over 150 Marines and Iraqi police bedded down in a ramshackle barracks when a truck- clearly intent on detonating to destroy the make-shift barracks and kill all within, came flying full throttle at them. The two Marines- both under the age of 25- stood their guard without flinching. They simply presented their weapons, aimed, and fired into the truck’s cab, bringing it to a halt inches from where they stood. The camera footage that survived recorded the moment from when the truck entered the street until it’s explosion: six seconds.)

By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live. The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty—into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you. . .

And, since I cannot truly know what it means to serve, as I have never done so myself, I’ll end with an excerpt from an account written by former U.S. Marine Joe Carter entitled, What a Veteran Knows:

We know that service requires loving our home so much that we willingly give up all that we cherished—our freedom, our youth, our life—so that others may be safe. We know that in serving our homeland we gave up our ability to watch over our own homes. We know that it meant leaving our families for far-off lands and seas and that no matter how many cards and letters and pictures and videos our families would send that it could never replace the time we missed being with our children, watching over them, and letting them know we were there to protect them… And when we meet our fellow veterans we always know exactly what we mean when we pat their back and take their hand and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’

To those reading who are veterans or in service, I say, Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your service. 

And tomorrow, dear readers, on November 11th, take to heart the words of Eisenhower: “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”