On May 13, 1938, nearly 20 years after the first Armistice Day was proclaimed, Congress designated Nov. 11 a legal holiday which would be “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”
The act was in keeping with the spirit of the first Armistice Day proclaimed on Nov. 11, 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson who said “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.”
From 1938 until 1954, Nov. 11 was known as Armistice Day. Then, in 1954, after a nearly decade-long campaign by World War II veteran Raymond Weeks, Congress passed and President Dwight Eisenhower, himself a veteran, signed into law an act changing the name of the Nov. 11 holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, the name by which it has been known and celebrated ever since.
Weeks’ idea was that the day should celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I, and that’s how it should be. Yet even as we celebrate Veterans Day by honoring the service and sacrifice of those who have worn the uniforms of our nation’s armed forces, let us also keep in mind the idea behind its predecessor, Armistice Day, the idea of world peace.
Though we have proven time and again that we are a formidable enemy in time of war, Americans are a peace-loving people who, also time and again, have extended the hand of friendship to the rest of the world. Even in the case of our enemies, America, once the fighting is over, has shown mercy and charity toward those we had met on the battlefield.
This is the nature of the American people and it is this nature that is reflected in both Veterans Day and Armistice Day. We honor those who have defended this nation in time of peace and of war, but we do so in the hope that one day, there will be a final generation of veterans as humanity finally learns to live in peace with one another.
Many generations of veterans from Robert E. Lee to Dwight Eisenhower have testified to the horrors and futility of war, their testimony expressing the hope that humanity can consign this terrible practice to the dust heap of history. It is no doubt the hope of all veterans who, like Lee and Eisenhower, have seen war up close and who, while proud of their service to their country, have no desire to see another generation enter this most terrible of charnel houses.
Veterans Day is Monday and it is appropriate that the parade will end and the ceremony honoring the veterans of Union County will be held at the War Memorial on Main Street where war’s ultimate price is on display for all to see. So let us honor our veterans, all of our veterans, and let us also honor and pray for the achievement of what is no doubt the hope they harbor in the depths of their souls, a world without war, a world at peace.