The history and meaning of Veterans Day
By Christian P. Milord | OCRegister.com
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Armistice – truce – was signed by the Allies and Germany, thus halting the carnage of World War I. The official end of the war was declared by the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. World War I pulverized parts of Europe and left nearly 30 million soldiers wounded or dead. Some predicted it would be the war to end all wars.
While lingering grievances from this conflict would partially trigger a more devastating Second World War, peace for a time was at hand. Participating nations began to pick up the pieces and honor those who had fought.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson noted in a proclamation, “To us in America, the reflection 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 nation.”
Armistice Day (Remembrance Day for some U.S. allies) became an official holiday in 1938. Following WWII and the Korean War, many veterans pushed to expand the significance of Armistice Day to include all those who served their country.
President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress authorized changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, honoring veterans of all conflicts America has entered. Consequently, Veterans Day is more encompassing than Memorial Day, which primarily honors our fallen warriors.
During the Revolutionary War against England, principled Colonists signed on to the noble mission of independence and their God-given right to human freedom. Moreover, many soldiers fought bravely in an epic Civil War, and a Union victory ended slavery and began the restoration of a fractured nation.
Countless soldiers fought under brutal conditions in WWI and lost their lives in the trenches of Flanders Field. In WWII, millions of Allied troops engaged the enemy across North Africa, Europe and the Pacific in order to prevail against the atrocities of the Axis powers. During the “forgotten war” in Korea, Allied forces battled the communists in the bitter cold at historic landmarks such as Chosin Reservoir and Heartbreak Ridge.
Regardless of our convictions regarding the Vietnam War, our troops struggled to keep South Vietnam free from totalitarian rule. Moreover, we ought to honor the valor of Bud Day, Sen. John McCain, Admiral James Stockdale and many others who endured years of torture in the hellish Hoa Lo prison – the “Hanoi Hilton” – yet returned with their honor intact.
Today, Veterans Day is designated to commemorate all living and deceased veterans who heeded the call of duty. That would include those missing in action, our wounded warriors, former prisoners of war and millions of veterans who have served both in war and peace.
When recruits enter the Armed Forces, they are aware that they could be thrust into harm’s way. Who are these men and women? They are ordinary individuals who sometimes make great sacrifices and endure extraordinary challenges. What higher commitment is there than to place one’s life on the line for humanity?
Our veterans are stationed around the globe, providing disaster relief, defending democratic institutions, fighting ISIS and enhancing security in Afghanistan. On this day, and every day, let us be thankful for their service and pray for their safety and eventual return home.
Our veterans know that natural freedom is an ideal worth defending because there will always be terrorists and tyrants who hope to undermine liberty, progress and security. By honoring our veterans, we show gratitude for their devotion to human dignity and freedom. Through their selfless service, we might better understand responsible liberty and be inspired to lead better lives.
Christian P. Milord of Fullerton is an educator and veteran.