As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Today, November 11, 2011 – 11/11/11 – marks the commemoration of Veterans Day. As someone who enjoys studying the history of World War I and the time period around it, Armistice Day has always held a special interest for me. In today’s world, it’s a moment to commemorate and to celebrate the work of those who serve our country, risking and even giving their lives to protect the freedoms we hold dear. But I’ve always been fascinated with the moment in time that was the original Armistice Day. And I try to imagine how it must have felt to have been trapped in that horror of a war, with its trenches and tanks, its poison gas and new hardware, and then for it all to simply come to a silent end at one moment in time.
So I thought for today, I’d share a brief look at Armistice Day and how Veterans Day come about.
After nearly five years, the conflict known as “The Great War” ended officially when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles However, the actual fighting in this conflict had stopped more than seven months earlier when an armistice, or a temporary cessation of hostilities, between the two opposing sides –the Allied nations and Germany– went into effect. That armistice occurred on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” Armistice Day – the day peace returned to the world.
The following year, President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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…”
Further legislation in 1926 created the day as a legal holiday. In 1954, in part to commemorate the service of all the brave veterans who had served in World War II, the name was officially changed to Veterans Day. For a brief period of time in the 1970s, Veterans Day was observed as a moveable holiday, celebrated on the closest Monday, but in 1978, Veterans Day celebrations were returned to November 11, in order to preserve the legacy and historical importance of that date. Since then, as the Veterans Administration indicates, “November 11 serves to help focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
On Veterans Day, especially, Special Collections and Archives (where I work) is proud to be the home of many archival collections pertaining to the significant work and legacy of veterans of many conflicts. The picture above is taken from one of my favorite collections, that of Fred F. Marshall. After World War I was declared, Mr. Marshall was inducted into the Armed Services and was placed into the photo section of the Signal Corps. For three months, he attended the Columbia University of Cinematography, where he engaged in an intensive study of photography for military usages. First, he was stationed at the Pathe Brothers factory in Paris, France. Next, he was sent to Hague, Holland, in October of 1918 for the purpose of setting up photographic, cartographic, and photostatic laboratory equipment. In 1919 he was discharged from the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. After his return home, he was best known as a journalist and writer. More information about Marshall and his collection is available here.
If you have the chance, take the opportunity to learn about veterans past and present where you live. The links below tell a bit about the veterans/military collections available for research at the place I work:
Today of all days, thank a veteran. Remember that there are men and women protecting the United States every day of the year, around the globe. And most of all, remember that veterans of any time deserve to be remembered.