This editorial originally was printed Nov. 11, 2005. It runs again this year in honor of Veterans Day.
Nov. 11 is Veterans Day in the United States. The holiday is widely observed today, with banks, schools and government offices closed.
The holiday originally called Armistice Day was designated to commemorate the armistice, or suspension of fighting, between the Germans and Allies in World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. President Woodrow Wilson observed the first Armistice Day in 1919, and Congress made it a holiday in 1926.
World War I was called “the war to end all wars,” but it wasn’t, and Congress changed the name in 1954 to honor the veterans of World War II and subsequent conflicts.
In the late 1960s, the government tried to move Veterans Day to the third Monday in November to give federal employees a three-day weekend, but states and many veterans resisted, so President Gerald Ford wisely got rid of that idea in 1978.
In a 1926 Congressional resolution, Americans were encouraged “to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
How many of us can say we do that today, unless we are veterans ourselves or know people who are?
It’s too easy to let Veterans Day pass by without thinking about it or to see it as merely a chance to score a good deal on a TV set — or have a three-day weekend.
Our neighbors in Canada — and the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other former colonies — may have an easier time remembering than we do. For them, today is Remembrance Day, which also marks the World War I armistice, but much more solemnly.
Many people wear red poppies, the flower that inspired a Canadian World War I soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae, to write the poem “In Flanders Fields” when he saw them growing near the grave of a friend killed in battle, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. website.
At a time when our country continues to suffer losses in Iraq and Afghanistan and soldiers are returning forever changed, emotionally and physically, we cannot forget what veterans have given up for us and our country.
So if you don’t know any veterans, make it a point to meet some. Or try writing a note of encouragement to a soldier, sailor or Marine.
In McCrae’s words,
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”