On the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, the howling carnage of the Great War came to a long-awaited — and desperately prayed for — end. It had been the grisliest and most gut-wrenching war in human history. Flesh had given way to steel and gas and shell on the ever-fluctuating — yet never moving — battlefields of Verdun and Flanders and the Somme. The ‘war to end all wars,’ to ‘secure a lasting peace’ and a ‘new world order,’ had petered out with little lasting change achieved and having laid the groundwork for the next global conflict which would lay waste to Europe and claim the lives of millions of brave men and women.
That is the backdrop and forgotten history of Veterans’ Day. It was begun as a way to honor those who served and died in the Great War. Traditionally, the Armistice has been celebrated by wearing a poppy on one’s lapel. It was celebrated by virtually all of the Entente powers (England, France, the United States, and Australia among others). In the United States, it was renamed Veterans’ Day and exists to commemorate all veterans, living and dead.
Which brings me to my point. Happy Veterans’ Day. My grandfather, Gerald “Sarge” Griesinger, served in the Korean War. He operated a listening post on an island in the South Pacific. He rarely talked about his time in the service. Actually, I don’t think we ever discussed it. Yet, I have always been inspired by his service and I am incredibly proud of him to this day. He passed away several years ago, now. I wish that I had gotten the chance to know him better. But the two things I know beyond any doubt are that he loved his family and that he loved his country (and that he had strong opinions about how yard work ought to be done, but that’s unrelated).
In any event, be sure to thank the Veterans in your life and those you pass on the street. They have sacrificed so much for us. They deserve our undying gratitude. As Kipling put it:
“There is but one task for all;
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?”