Hug a hero, today, and say thank you to all the men and women of the armed services who have proudly worn the uniform and defended your country. Today is Veterans Day in the United States, Remembrance Day (not to be confused with Remembrance Sunday) in the United Kingdom, and Armistice Day in other countries. November 11 was chosen because it is “the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.”
Veterans Day is an annual American federal and state holiday honoring military veterans usually observed on November 11 and is pretty much remembered in some form or another in most of the countries of the world because it was when the major hostilities of World War I formally ended. The actual date and time was 11 AM, the 11th hour, on November 11th, the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. At which time the Germans signed the Armistice. Though the battles did not cease in other areas of the world it was significant marker for the end of the War.
For the US, the first celebration took place on the first anniversary of this historical event. But it was not for seven years (1926) that the United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution, requesting the President issue another proclamation to observe November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. It was May 13, 1938 before it became an officially recognized holiday in the US. Then in 1953 Al King, a shoe store owner in Emporia, Kansas campaigned to expand the holiday to celebrate all veterans, not just those of the First World War.
16 years after its declaration as an official holiday, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill making it a law that the date officially included all veterans and congress amended the law on November 8, 1954 so that it would now be known as Veterans Day, replacing the previous title of Armistice Day. The actual date which this holiday is celebrated has changed over the years, but the sentiments behind why we celebrate have only expanded, expanded to honor all those who serve in the armed forces.
Closely tied to this day of remembrance is the symbol of the Poppy. This is because John McCrae, Canadian military physician, wrote possibly the most remembered poem about World War I, called In Flanders Fields (full poem at the end of this article). The poem speaks of the poppies that bloomed across the worst battlefields of Flanders. “An American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries employee, Moina Michael, was inspired to make 25 silk poppies based on McCrae’s poem, which she distributed to attendees of the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ Conference. At this conference, a Frenchwoman, Anna E. Guérin, was inspired to introduce the widely used artificial poppies given out today.” Through out much of the world poppies are associated with Veterans Day / Remembrance Day / Armistice Day as a result of the poem and the efforts of these two women. It is recommended that the poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible.
It has also become tradition to observe a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. on this day as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million people who died in the war. Our friends in the UK have their big day this coming Sunday (Remembrance Sunday) but still honor the two-minute moment of silence on November 11th. If you don’t know this tradition till after time the time has passed, do it when you can, but if you can do so at 11am, please do so. For my part I will be hugging my dad, the only living relative I have that served in the military. Hug someone you know who has served and tell them thank you.
Happy Veterans Day, Veterans, wherever you are!
Notable music to listen to on this occasion: “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 – 1918)