Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice Day

By Mitchell

Until 1954, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day, a day set to commemorate the end of World War I (or, as it was simply known then, The War). More precisely, it marks the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time at which the Armistice was signed.

For a time starting in 1968, Veterans Day was observed in October. It was a part of the Uniform Holidays Bill, which - for those of you who, like me, are old enough to remember when both Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday were holidays - standardized the idea of the Monday holiday and the three-day weekend. The afformentioned presidential birthdays were wrapped up into one (popularly called Presidents' Day, although as we've mentioned before the legal name is still Washington's Birthday observed), while Memorial Day and Columbus Day were moved to the nearest Mondays. Veterans Day, because of its relative closenes to Thanksgiving, was moved all the way to October, a month that needed its own three-day weekend.

The reception to this wasn't very good, especially among veterans' groups who realized that November 11 actually meant something. Most states returned to observing November 11, and in 1978 the Federal government did likewise. (They had to wait a couple of years before doing so to give the calendar publishers time to catch up.)

In Canada and the U.K., the day is called Remembrance Day which is probably a more appropriate name for it. The name carries a certain solemnity, an echo of years gone by and events that, while long past, will never be forgotten. We're not very good at remembering history any more, and so we seldom learn from it. So as we honor the vet today, it's not a bad idea to remember those musty pages in old history books that tell the stories of times that were larger than those who were a part of it. That, as well, is something we should remember.


Armistice Day

Don't jeer because we celebrate
Armistice Day,
Though thirty years of sorry fate
Have passed away.
Though still we gaurd the Sacred Flame,
And fly the Flag,
That World War Two with grief and shame
Revealed--a rag.

For France cannot defend to-day
Her native land;
And she is far to proud to pray
For helping hand.
Aye, though she stands amid the Free,
In love with life,
No more her soil will shambles be
In world-war strife.

Still we who tend the deathless Flame
Of Verdun speak;
It is our glory and our shame,
For we are weak.
We have too much of blood and blight
To answer for . . .
No, France will never, never fight
Another war!

Robert W. Service (1953)


America the Beautiful

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful, for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!

O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

Katharine Lee Bates (1895)

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