On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the fighting in “The Great War” was officially over. The last of the Central Powers to yield was Germany. They reluctantly signed a ceasefire agreement with the Allied Forces marking the end of World War I. The Armistice of Compiègne halted the hostilities until the actual peace agreement was settled and signed 6 months later.
The armistice allowed the fighting to cease without Germany having to actually surrender. The Allies still considered it a defeat of the Central Powers. The Central Powers included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. America, Britain, France, Japan, the Russian Empire (until the Revolution), and Italy made up the Allies.
Although the Central Powers were fighting together, each country signed their own armistices. The Treaty of Versailles achieved final peace with Germany on June 28, 1919. Ironically, June 28th marked the 5-year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. His murder actually sparked the “war to end all wars.”
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson, along with most other Allied leaders, proclaimed November 11th as the holiday Armistice Day. Upon the announcement Wilson stated:
“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.”
Americans observed the day across the nation, with Congress making it a legal holiday on May 13, 1938. A Congressional Act declared November 11th:
“a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”
Ironically, just two days before the year’s Armistice Day celebration, German Jews suffered Crystal Night (or Kristallnacht). The Nazi riot was the response to a Polish Jew assassinating a German diplomat. Germans vandalized, damaged and destroyed Jewish businesses, hospitals, homes, schools, cemeteries and synagogues in retaliation. Broken glass covered the streets after the 2-day rampage, dubbing it Crystal Night.
German authorities soon required Jews wear a yellow star of David. Fearing for their safety, German Jews also began paying large indemnities. The following year Hitler invaded Poland and within three years the United States entered World War II. The Allies and Central Powers remained the same with the exception of Japan, who changed sides. This war also brought the torture and execution of 6 millions Jews at the hands of the Nazis. The WWI Armistice peace apparently did not hold.
Armistice Day is still celebrated throughout the world in most Allied nations on or around November 11th. Several counties changed the name after World War II, such as Remembrance Day.
In 1954 Congress passed a bill renaming the day ‘All Veterans Day’. Later shortened to ‘Veterans Day’, this new name allowed Americans to honor veterans of all wars. Veterans Day has been observed and celebrated in America on November 11th ever since, except for a brief time in the 1970’s. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved Veterans Day to the 4th Monday in October. Americans quickly decided the significance of the date was too important. As a result, President Ford returned it to November 11th starting in 1978.
Across the globe, millions stop for a 2-minute moment of silence at 11:00am, honoring the time the last armistice of WWI took effect. Originally the first minute was to reflect on the 20 million lives lost in the conflict. The second minute remembers the family and loved ones left behind. Many still continue this tradition extending their thoughts to all veterans.
Another way you can honor fallen veterans and their families is with a few coins. When visiting cemeteries, many leave a coin on the tombstones out of respect. It also lets the deceased soldier’s family know someone appreciates the sacrifice their loved one made for the country.
A penny signifies someone stopped by to visit. Those who trained with the deceased soldier in boot camp leave a nickel. A dime signifies they served with the soldier. And quarters mean the visitor was present when the soldier was killed. It is a long held tradition that allows citizens to show honor and reverence to our fallen servicemen and women.
Though we set aside November 11th to officially recognize and honor the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for freedom and liberty, we should praise these veterans every day. Even just a simple thank you, kind word or a handshake means everything to a veteran. We need to remember and appreciate these men and women who selflessly served their country.
God Bless Our Veterans and God Bless America.
But that’s just my 2 cents.