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Veteran’s Day – Remembering Why We Celebrate November 11, 1918

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vets 2So long ago now that the day is no longer a memory for living souls, November 11, 1918, remains a significant day in history. On what was known back then as Armistice Day, The Great War (now known as World War I) ended after a grueling six weeks of battle in the French forest known as Meuse-Argonne. When it was all over 25,000 Americans were dead and more than 95,000 wounded. The price of glory, as always, was considerably high and involved the significant loss of American blood and treasure.

Looking back on it now so many years and Veteran’s Days later, we know that whatever was learned from such horrific numbers is largely forgotten. To my grandfather, who fought valiantly in that “war to end all wars,” there would come along something called World War II. This incredulous occurrence shook him because he and many of his friends thought that they had fought for something more than just a victory: they wanted to make sure it would never happen again.

Pop came back and lived his life. Many of his friends never came back, losing their lives over there. Some never returned home but lived, becoming expatriates because what they saw shook them so much, broke all belief in god and country, and made them wish to be anything but American. This wasn’t because they hated America but that they loved it, but now it was no longer possible to return home because part of themselves died in those forests and trenches. They had to remain behind as it were only to unite their lost selves with what was left of them.

As we all know war has never ended. There was World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Along the way more and more soldiers were lost, more treasure spent, and blood spilled in the deserts, on the beaches, and in the fields of the world all seemed for naught because peace remains elusive.

Yet brave men and women volunteer, go forward against all odds, and do what most people would not be able or willing to do. They are like those firefighters on 9-11 who went up while everyone else came down. There is something inherently noble and compelling about such dedication, such bravery, and this is more than love of country and honor of service – it is something bigger than the individual.

I have had family members who have fought in every war since the Spanish-American War. What I have always heard from them was there was a “sense of obligation” that encouraged them, inspired them, and drove them forward. They fought for something greater than themselves, believing in the idea that they were securing the future for their children and generations to come.

No one likes war; most of us despise it. All the people I have known who have been in the Armed Forces hated war too, but that didn’t stop them. They also loved their country and their families so deeply that they were willing to forego personal freedom and safety to do something to secure a better future.

However futile it may seem to us on the outside, no matter how much we disdain the politics of war and its hawks who wish to crush the doves, we must remember that these men and women are beyond that minutiae. They volunteer, they serve, and sometimes they die. They come home wounded or missing limbs and sometimes parts of themselves. They do not seek glory but they deserve respect, admiration, and some kind of consideration.


vets 1
On this Veteran’s Day we should remember all those who died and all those who returned. Some never could march in a Veteran’s Day parade but still make their way each year in cars or in wheelchairs. No matter how I feel about all the wars – and for each of us that’s complicated by personal issues – I truly admire those who have served and who serve us now. These men and women are noble; they deserve a parade and more than we could ever give them.

Still, I think of Pop in his last years, the shaky hands that never went away. He had PTSD the rest of his life after the war, but it was dismissed as “shell shock” back then. He was supposed to go home and get over it.

In many ways he did just that. He joined a different force and became a New York City firefighter (no surprise to any of us), raised his family, saw his grandchildren grow up, and enjoyed life as much as he could. I picture him now sitting in his chair, holding a cigarette in one shaking hand and a glass of beer in the other. Yes, he never forgot what he lived through and the horrors that he witnessed, but he managed to live a life and in the end I don’t think we grandchildren (and now great grandchildren) could ask any more than that.

vets 3I salute all veterans today, but especially my grandfather, father, uncles, and cousins who all served with honor. Maybe one day we will see the enduring peace that they thought they were fighting for but never was achieved. That peace may come someday, and then the spirits of all those who served can rest knowing that their mission has finally been accomplished.

Photo credits: parade-veterans today.com; poster-ktvb.com; doughboy-aef-doughboys.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • STM

    American sacrifice in WWI was significant more for it being America’s entry to the world stage (in a bad way I guess, whenever people lose their lives, although it contributed the end of a terrible conflict) and sacrifice is sacrifice.
    No one should doubt the veracity of the American contribution to WWI but it wasn’t on the scale of the other participants and reading Victor’s story, and I suspect that was not his intention, you might think the battle of the Meuse Argonne alone brought an end to that conflict and that it was a direct result of that battle and America’s involvement in it.
    Not so. Since this site touts itself as an international site, I feel the need to set the record straight.
    It was only a part (but neverthless a significant part) of a push by British, Empire/Commonwealth, French, Belgian and US forces all along the Western Front aimed at busting the Hindenburg Line (known as The Grand Offensive). The US was able to bring fresh (but mostly inexperienced) troops to the battle in considerable numbers, as were the British and its Dominion/Empire forces, who, having defeated the Turks in the middle east, were able to deploy considerable resources also.
    The Grand Offensive began in the American/French sector around Sedan with Pershing’s AEF and the French Fourth and Fifth Armies starting a push at the Germans on September 26, 1918.
    At around the same time, a massive offensive began all along the line aimed at knocking the Germans out of the war.
    While Pershing’s assault with the French tied down a considerable part of the German army, it actually did not result in a breach of the line until much, much later.
    However, in a little known fact in the US – but a very interesting one and one that really should not be forgotten in America – two divisions AEF was actually involved in what is now regarded by many historians as a pivotal battle (if not the pivotal battle) in this same offensive, as it first broke the back of the German line: The Battle of St Quentin Canal, which occurred far to the north.
    This was the initial breach of the Hindenburg line, and sent the Gerrmans reeling. In it, two divisions of the American Expeditionary Force, the 27th and 30th, under British and Australian command, joined a spearhead attack by 12 divisions of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and the AIF (Australian Imperial Force).
    In their sector of this battle, the Americans were involved in the first assault and were then leapfrogged by the Australians before being withdrawn. Many US soldiers who were without officers and bogged down in the initial attack joined the Australian assault, and by October 2, only a few days after it began, it has resulted in a 17km breach of the Hindenburg line. By the 10th, the German army was in full retreat from the high ground. Pershing’s attack did not achieve the same result until a month later.
    Even if the Americans’ physical contribution to the St Quentin Canal battle was small compared to its allies, it was hugely significant. The same could be said of the AEF in terms of the scale of the war.
    To put this is perspective, the British Empire’s casualties in WWI, mostly on the western front, were over 2 million while France’s were more than 5 million dead and wounded.
    The corresponding figures for the US were in the order of 320,000. In the US case, that’s in only the last two years of that war – which gives some idea of the scale of the ferocity of the conflict as US casualties in WWII were about the same as their British allies, both in the region of 850,000, and that war was fought on a much wider scale.
    Armistice Day is a big deal in Britain and the Commonwealth. Americans often reflect on the terrible waste of life in the American Civil War and how it affected the fabric of society there. The same can be said of WWI for the British Commonwealth: almost no family escaped unscathed, with the young men of entire villages serving together being wiped out on a single day. All Britons were affected terribly, but the children of the aristocracy fared worst. Britons often talk of a lost generation either dead or scarred forever, and they are right.
    My grandmother used to have a mantlepiece lined with cameo pictures of young men in uniform – family members – who’d been lost in WWI. Many others we knew when I was a boy were just broken shells of men (veterans of both world wars).
    Victor’s story too has a certain pognancy given his family’s involvement in WWII, the US veterans of whom are rightly remembered as “the greatest generation”.
    It’s worth remembering here that in both those wars, behind all the talk about jockeying for global power, the English speakers were fighting against tyranny for a single noble idea: democracy and personal freedom.
    It is also why I bristle when I hear jokes like “how many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris. No one knows, it’s never been done”.
    Actually, it was done – between 1914 and 1918, at a cost of nearly six million French men and women either dead, maimed, crippled or psychologically ruined for life.
    You can see why 11/11 is such a big deal as commemorated in Britain, the Commonwealth, and France. I am also glad it’s not been forgotten in America, either.
    So when the guns fell

  • Victor Lana

    STM, this is one of the best comments I have ever seen on BC. I thank you for bringing so much important and necessary information to this conversation. It is greatly appreciated.