The holiday had been established as Armistice Day to commemorate the cease fire, the temporary cessation of hostilities, to end World War I in 1918.
The hallowed day and time were etched in the memory of the nations involved. It was at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month.
The first commemoration was a year later in 1919. By then, the official treaty had been signed.
The war was called the Great War, the war to end all wars. The armistice meant peace, at last.
We all know now that it was not a lasting peace. But for decades, that sacred minute impressed upon us that peace is a worthy goal, and our gratitude and our patriotism and our hope should be expressed repeatedly.
I remember in school how the teacher would stop all activity in the classroom for a couple of minutes.
By then another war was raging and our country was involved to a point not experienced by many before then.
I recall blackouts, when we were supposed to pull our shades at night in case the enemy decided to drop bombs, even miles from any town.
I can see now, in my mind’s eye, the long convoys of camouflaged trucks on the highways. The picture in my mind of German soldiers in a prisoner of war camp at Fort Oglethorpe in north Georgia haunts me.
I think my strongest memories are of the patriotism that permeated our lives. It seemed we were all working together to rid the world of an enemy that we could only identify through the radio and newspapers, and the newsreels at the movies when we managed to get there.
We certainly didn’t understand why we were fighting. Freedom was not a tangible object then, any more than it is today. But we all knew what Hitler looked like, and it was easy enough to make him our target.
Even today we are still learning of some of the atrocities of that war, and although Hitler is not today’s enemy, his evil counterparts are alive and well. And we must honor and respect those who fight against this common enemy.
Although celebrated after 1919 in different ways throughout America, France, Australia and Britain, Armistice Day became a legal federal holiday in the U. S. in 1938, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.”
On Nov. 11, 1921, a new element was added. An unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, an event duplicated in Paris and in London on the same day.
But after World War II and the Korean conflict, it was decided that the significance of the date should be honored, but that the many service personnel since WWI should be recognized as well.
On June 1, 1954, legislation was enacted to change the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. And so it is.
In the MOTH’s family, there were six sons and four daughters. Every son served in the military.
Some were drafted, some volunteered. Some served two years, others three or longer. Some went abroad. All survived the war of their day.
One survived the war to come home and work in his hometown’s copper mines where a terrible accident would take his life. Another succumbed to the ravages of alcohol, not uncommon in his generation.
One of them will be leading the Veterans Day service in his church on Sunday.
All of them took pride in their years of service, and rightly so. Here in Woodstock, the sergeant who resides at my address will probably walk over to the park on Sunday afternoon to watch the program there.
Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day, and according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, that is a common misunderstanding.
Memorial Day, an outgrowth of the Civil War, is the fourth Sunday in May, and it honors American service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle.
On the other hand, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans, living or dead, but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peace.
And that’s the key word, peace.
The origin of the day leads back to Armistice, to peace. Peace is to be waged, with just as much gratitude, patriotism, and hope as war.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.