ANYTOWN, USA — In the aftermath of the terrible toll taken on human life during the Great War of 1914-1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to the nation declaring that November 11 …
ANYTOWN, USA — In the aftermath of the terrible toll taken on human life during the Great War of 1914-1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to the nation declaring that November 11 would be known for all time as Armistice Day. This was declared in recognition of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 during which hostilities of WWI finally drew to a close when Germany signed an armistice agreement.
The bloody “war to end all wars” (July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918) claimed an estimated nine million combatants and 13 million civilian deaths as a direct result of the conflict.
In his address to the people, President Wilson said, “A year ago our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and more just set of international relations.
“Out of this victory, there arose new possibilities of political freedom... The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of man.”
In conclusion, he said, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in this county’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 nations.”
On June 4, 1926, the US Congress adopted a resolution requesting President Calvin Coolidge to issue a proclamation calling for the annual observance of November 11 as a day of remembrance. Almost 14 years later, on May 13, 1938, a Congressional Act was approved to designate November 11 of each year a legal holiday “to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.”
In 1945, WWII veteran Raymond Weeks asked General Dwight D. Eisenhower to support his idea for expanding Armistice Day to honor all veterans of this nation’s call to arms, not just those who served in WWI.
On May 26, 1954, President Eisenhower, as the 34th leader of the free world, signed into law a congressional bill declaring November 11 as National Armistice Day. Finally, on June 1, 1954, Congress amended the bill to switch armistice to veterans, and ever since, November 11 has been known as Veterans Day in honor of all America’s legions of vets.
A lot of our country’s veterans would like to see the meaning of the annual celebration return to its roots recognizing that in the final reckoning, peace trumps war.
Chuck “Doc” Heyn of Damascus, PA was drafted into the US Army in 1966 and served as a combat medic in Vietnam for 15 months with B Company, 1/327, 101st Airborne in that battle-ravaged land.
“When you talk about Veterans Day being something that honors all veterans... to many veterans, it’s more of a surface kind of thing: ‘thank you for your service,’ ‘we’re there for you,’ but it falls short,” said Heyn.
“I would like to see a different focus,” he added. “Instead of focusing on getting better at doing wars, we should get a little better at figuring out how not to go to war.”
For Heyn, it’s been a long journey of healing from the effects of war. As a medic, he tried to mend the torn bodies of his comrades-in-arms and of the civilians caught between warring nations. As he returned to the “real world” and came to grips with the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Heyn has traveled the country on his motorcycle, visiting fellow vets and paying his respects at more than 600 veteran memorials from coast to coast.
He could only once recall a memorial erected along a backwater road, somewhere in a small town in rural Georgia, that spoke to the heart of the matter—that we should always honor veterans while knowing, at the same time, that “maybe we can do this differently.”
“The church bells tolling on the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11th month has been taken away from us, as they declared it Veterans Day instead of Armistice Day. We need to figure out how not to repeat these wars,” said Heyn.
Chuck “Doc” Heyn will be featured next week in “A Soldier’s Story,” an account of his time in Vietnam and coping with PTSD.