A hundred and one years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Nov. 11, 1918, the armistice that ended hostilities of the First World War was signed. The war was officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926 that also recognized Armistice Day with these words "... it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations."
It wasn't until 12 years later that an act of Congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday, "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day.'" In 1954, the 83rd Congress with Public Law 380 amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans."
Later that same year President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation," which began with the words: "WHEREAS it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace...."
Fourteen years later, "The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production." Most states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on Nov. 11. After much confusion, on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11.
Armistice Day is a political and cultural phenomenon that has morphed from a solemn remembrance of "The War to End All Wars" and a sincere desire to work for peace, to an honoring of veterans of all wars and an attempt to make it a three-day weekend to "encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production!"
It is fitting to honor and pay tribute to veterans who have sacrificed much to defend our nation. It is another thing altogether to find the right way to recognize all veterans who have gone off to the wars that should never have been fought including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and others.
One hundred and one years after the "War to End All Wars" ended in a railcar in Compiegne Forest, France, let us remember the horrors of that war and all the wars that followed and rededicate ourselves to fostering peace.
Andrew Schoerke is a retired naval officer and member of the the Will Miller Green Mountain Chapter of Veterans for Peace. He lives in Shaftsbury.