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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veterans Day / Remembrance Day - What's it all about?

November 11th is almost upon us. In the United States we talk about Veterans Day, come November. In the United Kingdom, and it's commonwealth, they talk about Remembrance Day.

Now on programs and at many events people often say, when talking to veterans, that "they honor their service." Which is a thoughtful and good thing to say, but it seems to have become a rote response. A formality before moving on. Say the magic words and think no more on it.

Veterans Day in the US can be the same, have the day out, go to a parade, and move on with little thought. Though hopefully for those of us with family still serving, or having finished, we think on it more.

So, while we do have many large issues to deal with, it is important to understand why we have this day set aside. To remember, and to not ignore lessons and obligations we have as a nation and as a people.

This day of remembrance comes out of the end of World War I. Then it was called Armistice Day. To celebrate the Armistice, an end of hostilities, that was agreed to in 1918. It would fall on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of that year (Someone was in love with some symbolism.).

So a peace was struck. It came in the wake of a global war. It came after the deaths of around 20 million. The war, unsurprisingly shook many. It was a maddening experience. And then there was peace.

In November of 1919, the year after Armistice, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first Armistice Day. And in 1938 Congress to passed law to make every November 11th Armistice Day, to promote world peace. And this, in 1954, was rename Veterans Day to expand those remembered to all veterans, including those that had just served in World War II.

And the tradition continued on from there. Date has shifted back and forth. Laws and proclamations were made. But from the start, this has been an act of remembering those that lost their lives fighting for their country, and those that return home.

REUTERS/Chris Roussakis
In the United Kingdom the traditions hold more to the original Armistice Day. King George V in November of 1919, like it was in the United States. England has taken on a number of continuing traditions to this day. Among those most notable is the image of the poppy. The red poppy is commonly worn, as a lead up to Remembrance Sunday, which was set as the 2nd Sunday of November (This was meant to prevent disrupting the war time services during World War II.). The poppy use is tied to the poem, by John McCrae:


In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below. 
We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields. 
Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.

The image conjures the image of the dead across the battlefield. The image of blood. The image of the cost paid in war. A cost that must be remembered, and learned from.

So at 11AM on Remembrance Sunday, their are two minutes of silence through the country, to remember the costs of war. This is initiated by the of a field gun firing on the Horse Guard Parade, then ended by firing again. Then the Royal Marines have buglers play out "Last Post."

And at Cenotaph in London a ritual of laying flowers:
Wreaths are laid by Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Kent, the Earl of Wessex, the Duke of Cambridge, the Prime Minister, leaders of major political parties and former Prime Ministers, the Foreign Secretary, the Commonwealth High Commissioners and representatives from the Royal NavyArmy and Royal Air Force, the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets and the civilian services....After the ceremony, a parade of veterans, organised by the Royal British Legion, marches past the Cenotaph, each section of which lays a wreath as it passes.
This procession means a lot to those that have served and suffered for their countries. Also for those that mourn family and friends that have passed.

These rituals can be important to supporting us to remembering what has come to past. WWI was a horrible scaring event. It was an event that should leave anyone with a loathing of going to war. But we still have seen war come, and those who to eagerly call for it. And those that returned from WWI, and other conflicts, have many times not gotten the treatment or respect they deserve from government (The GI Bill was a major change to the treatment veterans received for service.).

So I can only hope as we go into Veterans Day and Remembrance Sunday tomorrow, we think about why we do have veterans, what has been asked from them, and how we look at them (How we really look at them, not what we say for appearance.) and how we treat them (How many think about the Veterans Administration or the related services much?).

And also learn. Stats and facts to think on for Veterans Day:


  • Veterans are 50% more likely to be homeless than other Americans.
  • 75,000 veterans are homeless on any various night in the years.
  • 1% of Americans serve in the military, and 20% of all US suicides are veterans.

Get more informed:




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