Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Eleventh Hour, On the Eleventh Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns stopped.

For four years, the armies of the great nations of the world had savaged each other from Europe to Africa to  the Middle East in a war of such a scale and of such brutality that it became known as the Great War and the war to end all wars.  But on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the combatants agreed to an armistice, and the guns stopped.  

Some units stopped firing and ceased operations well before the eleven  AM deadline.  Others, not content to let the enemy have the last word, fired at maximum rate until the deadline. But at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns stopped and silence fell across the trench lines and no-man's-land from Switzerland to the North Sea.  It would take another year to conclude peace, but for all intents and purposes, the Great War, a war involving over 70 million personnel and leaving over nine million dead, was over.

It's been 93 years since the day the guns stopped and the generation that fought the war to end all wars has passed from among us.  Even now, as the memory of those men and that war and those times grows dim we remember that no less than five subsequent wars have proven that there is no war to end all wars and no end to the savagery that can be practiced between men and nations.

In 1954, in recognition of the service of those who served and fought after the Great War, Congress amended the law to change the name of the 11 November holiday from Armistice Day -- the day the guns stopped -- to Veterans' Day, in honor of those who have served.

This Veterans' Day, I will remember those who served and sacrificed in the Great War and all wars subsequent to it.  And I shall reflect on the words of the poem, written in 1915 by Canadian surgeon, Lt. Col. John McRae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

How will you hold the torch high?
How will you keep faith with those who suffered and sacrificed for you?
How will you remember the day the guns stopped?