#119 – Dick Bernard: Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day

Yesterday my Uncle Vince and I were driving down a country road* near his farm, and and out of the blue he said, “tomorrow must be Armistice Day, right?
Right, indeed. I was surprised to hear him call it Armistice Day, since in the U.S. it’s been called Veteran’s Day since 1954, when an act of Congress changed Armistice to Veterans Day.
So, today, in England they are remembering Armistice Day, November 11, 2009 (now called Remembrance Day); here in the States we have Veterans Day. As a veteran, today I get a free meal from a restaurant chain if I show up with my dog tags. And so it goes…. (I’ll be there, at the restaurant.)
Uncle Vince was born a bit more than six years after the event that led to the establishment of Armistice Day: the ending of hostilities for the “War to End All Wars”, WW I, November 11, 1918.
There was reason to celebrate the end of that deadly conflagration.
My mother, 9 years old at the time, recalled in her recollections of growing up on that same farm we were driving to yesterday: “[My sister] Florence was born [November 3] the year World War I ended. The hired girl and I were out in the snow chasing chickens into the coop so they wouldn’t freeze when there was a great long train whistle from the Grand Rapids [ND] railroad track [four miles away]. In the house there was a long, long telephone ringing to signify the end of World War I
By far my most memorable November 11 experience was at London’s Gatwick Airport, November 11, 2001.
We were waiting for boarding call to begin our trip home from a most enjoyable visit to London, a visit which included, a day or two prior, seeing the meticulously planted rows of tiny crosses on the lawn of Westminster Cathedral. These crosses symbolized the losses of war suffered by the English in their assorted wars, including those from being bombed during WWII.
At 11 a.m. on November 11, 2001, at Gatwick Airport, an announcement came, asking for two minutes of silence from all of us, remembering….
The bustling airport went completely silent. I don’t recall so much as a baby’s cry. It was intensely moving.
Today, at the First Shot Memorial on the State Capitol grounds in St. Paul, a group of Veterans for Peace gathered around the gun on the USS Ward that fired the first shot during the attack of Pearl Harbor in WW II. At precisely 11 a.m. a military veteran slowly rang a small bell 11 times, remembering 11-11-1918, and our appeal for enduring peace.
A block or so away another group gathered at the MN Vietnam Memorial, and remembered Veterans Day, 2009, in their own way.
A memory of today I will hold was of the guy who arrived at the events at the same time as I did. He was dressed in combat fatigues, and carrying what appeared to be a wooden, but realistic, combat weapon. I moved to the right, to the USS Ward Memorial; he moved to the left, to the Vietnam Memorial. All we had at our commemoration was a small bell…rung 11 times.
Who is right in these seeming clashing commemorations, or are both right? It’s more than an academic question. In my mind, one commemoration looks back to War, remembering our veterans, as opposed to the veterans on the opposing side – who are, after all, equally the victims of War; the other, Armistice (Remembrance) Day, emphasizes Peace. There is a huge difference in the emphasis, in my opinion.
The “War to End All Wars” 1914-18 simply spawned an even more deadly World War II, and on and on we go.
I’d like us to choose the route to peace. We can do it.
* – The country road Vince and I were on is the same road that is pictured on the home page of this blog. The only difference, yesterday, was that the surroundings are “November brown”,
For another view on Armistice/Veterans/Remembrance Day, see Annelee Woodstroms post at this blog for 11-9-09.
Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune carried an excellent commentary by Lori Sturdevant bring the recollections of two WWII veterans, one of whom is my good friend Lynn Elling. Do take a look . Look at the anonymous comments there, following the column. They illustrate the above distinction.