Last year as I sat at my desk on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an eerie feeling ran up my spine. It may seem hokey to some, but at that very moment, to the minute exactly ninety-one years after the event, a strange feeling washed over me, a sense of deep gratitude for our fighting men and women who have struggled to preserve our country’s freedom.
I’m talking about Veterans’ Day, the day set aside to honor all the women and men who have served in our armed forces.
November 11 is the anniversary of the Armistice, which was signed by the Allies and the Germans in 1918 in the forest at Rethondes near the town of Compienge ending World War I.
At five a.m. that morning, an agreement was struck, signatures were fixed to the document, and an order to cease all firing was issued. Six hours later at eleven a.m., the Armistice went into effect. Arms were lowered, whistles blew, impromptu parades erupted, and businesses closed in celebration.
While I enjoy all holidays, the blessings of Thanksgiving, the gaiety and joy of Christmas, the holiness of Easter, the exuberance of July 4, Veteran’s Day is most precious to me because so many in my family shouldered the arms of war and went out to do battle to preserve the freedom I enjoy, and my children and grandchildren now enjoy.
Twenty years passed after that signing before Congress agreed upon a bill that each November 11 would be celebrated as Armistice Day. Fifteen years later on November 11, 1953, instead of celebrating only WWI veterans, Alvin King of Emporia suggested all veterans to be honored.
Representative Ed Rees, of Emporia, Kansas, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans' Day. After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday. The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954.
In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through rededication to the task of promoting an enduring peace. The President said the change of name to Veterans' Day was an honor to the servicemen of all America's wars.
Many of my family served. My father spent a year on the west coast and a couple years in South America; a cousin served in the Army Air Corps; an uncle served in the army; and one in the navy. Another uncle served earlier in the Philippines, but was discharged with a blood disease that, according to oral family history, eventually took his life. Another cousin served in Korea and is still listed as a MIA after over half a century.
During the war, despite the efforts of those behind, family gatherings were filled with empty holes. Word always turned to those not present. I can remember seeing my grandmother’s and aunts’ eyes filling with tears as their innermost prayers went out to their loved ones.
We were one of the lucky families. Dad returned. My uncle in the army returned having received a shrapnel wound on Okinawa. My uncle in the navy made it back. My Air Force cousin returned safely. The only casualty we faced was my uncle who had served in the Philippines.
Then five years later, another cousin, Henry Shoop, whom we always called Dooley, shipped out to Korea.
We never saw him again. We never heard a word of his fate. All we know is he went out on patrol one night. The patrol was attacked. None returned, and no bodies were found.
I look around now at those brave men and women giving their lives for America, and I want to cry. I know the families of those serving realize just how dear the sacrifice our military is making, but I wonder about the rest of America. Do they understand?
If they don’t, they should drop to their knees and pray for that understanding be given them.