Celebrating Veterans Day

Remember the True Meaning of Veterans Day

By Sam Johnson

     Our Father who art in heaven --
     We thank you for this Armistice Day which we observe at peace, and beseech you to give all men’s hearts, hands and minds the capacity to work for continued peace.
     Let us not through greed and false values permit the destruction of all the beauty which has been wrought since first You created our world.
     Help us turn swords into ploughshares that all may have enough to eat.
     Help us turn atomic energy into life saving use that will lengthen man’s span rather than blow him to dust.
     Let us hold in affection and respect all those made in your image around the world -- whatever their race, color, or creed.
     Then we will not sadden you with more warring;
     Then this Armistice date will truly signify peace at last -- to last.


     In celebration of Veterans Day, I'd like to share this prayer with you.
It first appeared in the magazine “American Veteran’s News” back when we celebrated “Armistice Day.”
     The word “armistice” is derived from the Latin “arma” meaning arms, and “stare,” the infinitive form of the Latin verb “sto” meaning to stand.
     Armistice literally means to stack arms or stand them still.
     It is a suspension of hostilities by agreement -- a truce between belligerent parties.
     Armistice Day was originally designed to mark the cessation of hostilities in “The Great War” (World War I), and has been celebrated on November 11th since the signing of the Armistice document on that date in 1918.

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For many years, “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” (the actual time and date attributed to the signing of the Armistice agreement) was celebrated with great fanfare -- parades, pledges, prayers, the signing of songs made popular from that era such as “Over There,” “K-K-K-Katy,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Pack Up Your Troubles,” etc. -- followed by the traditional two minutes of silence in memory of those who died in “the war to end all wars.”
     Then in 1954 Congress passed a bill changing “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day” in order to commemorate the service of those who fought in all wars.
     Veterans Day has now become a legal holiday in practically all states and is set aside to remember all our nation’s devastating conflicts, the soldiers who fought in them, and the results they wrought.
     It’s a time designed for serious reflection on the meaning of war and peace and the responsibilities we have to see that the same mistakes aren’t made again.
     Unfortunately, it seems that many Americans fail to celebrate Veterans Day the way it was intended.
     Instead, November 11th has become merely another “day off work,” another “vacation from school,” another “free day to go hunting” -- just another “holiday” no longer holy, sacred, or much observed the way it was intended to be observed, except by the few remaining Armistice survivors and a few other veterans and patriots who will gather to salute the flag, say a few prayers and offer two minutes of silence.
     For the majority of people, however, the young and middle-aged who “weren’t involved,” don’t know, don’t remember, or don’t care, it will be “business as usual,” a day to go shopping, hunting, or do whatever.
     The big celebrations and parades that used to mark Armistice Day have disappeared for the most part, replaced with maybe an hour-long program consisting of a few songs played by the community or veterans group band, a short speech or prayer, the pledge, and a moment of silence.
     There’s a sad bit of irony attached to the following oft-quoted statement attributed to a young schoolboy who is said to have written on his history exam, “The Armistice was signed on the 11th of November in 1918, and ever since then, every year, there has been two minutes of peace and silence.”
     Part of the irony, of course, is that since the signing of the Armistice of “The War to End All Wars,” there has been constant fighting going on somewhere in the world, and we’ve suffered through World War II, the “Korean Conflict,” the “Cold War,” the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf war, Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous smaller battles, many of which are still being waged.  And of course hostilities and distrust continue throughout the world.
     The other irony is that in spite of this, the real reasons for Veterans Day -- a time to reflect on the story of the Armistice, a time to study the lessons of war -- are lost to the very people who need most to know them -- the young people who will lead us into the future.
     They should know that this day means more than just another “day off from school,” or that it is a day celebrated with “another boring program” consisting of a few songs, the pledge, a prayer, and “two minutes of peace.”
     If we could convey to them what Veterans Day is really about, then perhaps as the prayer asks, “this Armistice date might truly signify peace at last -- to last.”