IT BEGAN as Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of fighting in World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Not surprisingly, its meaning faded during the hell of World War II.
Nov. 11 was given over to solemn observation of the sacrifice in that war until a federal law of 1970 said that Veterans Day honoring those who served in all wars would be observed on the fourth Monday of October. Resistance was so great that as of 1976, Nov. 11 was federally reinstated as Veterans Day. And so it has remained. So many military men and women have served abroad in so many actions in the past three-quarters of a century that its origin as Armistice Day, celebrating what was meant to be the war to end all war, is a historical curiosity.
Recently, Veterans Day has been used to honor the 2.5 million men and women who served their nation in the war in Vietnam. New memorials to that sacrifice by young Americans are still being created, one this year at the Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson. The wounds in the nation over that experience in Southeast Asia have not fully healed.
Now the national consciousness is grasping that there were casualties unnoticed in the quick Persian Gulf war of 1991, as more comes out about exposure to Iraqi chemical agents that were destroyed. The extent of sacrifice by young men and women who responded to duty and orders in the sands of Kuwait and Iraq is still not clear.
It unfortunately would be wise to dedicate Veterans Day to those courageous young men and women who will have given the last full measure of devotion in wars (or police actions, humanitarian operations, peace-keeping or whatever euphemism will be next) that have yet to be fought, for causes not now discerned, in places not identified, over future crises not perceived.
At least this nation is now spared the draft. All its armed forces members volunteered. But peace-making skills have not grown commensurate with need in a shrinking world. As long as there is a United States, it will need defending. Those who respond to the call, by draft or enlistment, will always be due the gratitude, acknowledgment and just compensation from the vast majority of others, whose right to live in peace the comparative few will have defended.
Pub Date: 11/11/96