According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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 nations…”
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
One of my favorite parts of our Celebrate America program is when we recognize our veterans. Each year, I have the privilege of recognizing these men and women, and I always say something like this:
Throughout our history, men and women have answered the nation’s call to protect and defend those rights and freedoms we hold sacred. Our debt cannot be adequately paid – but our chance to honor our heroes cannot happen often enough. As the song from your branch of the service is sung, would all of our active duty military and veterans please come forward so that we may thank you for protecting our country.
And they stream down the aisles of our church with tears streaming down their faces. Some struggle to walk the short distance. Others march proudly with head held high, backs straight, shoulders squared, and you allow yourself to do so, you can see them in their uniforms as they appeared 30, 40, 50 years ago – heroes representing the best that America has to offer.
So on this Veteran’s Day, I salute you. I honor you. And I thank you. Because of your sacrifice, I am privileged to live in the greatest nation to ever exist.