In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, led a delegation to (then General) Dwight Eisenhower to expand the day to not just memorialize Armistice Day but to make the day to honor all Veterans. In 1954, Congress amended a bill (a bill originally presented by Kansas US representative Ed Rees and was signed as a law by that time President Dwight Eisenhower on May 26, 1954) and on June 1, 1954 replaced “Armistice” with “Veterans”; thusly creating the Veterans Day that we know today.
Before all of that happened, it was the signing of an armistice on the 11th hour ‘of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918, that the allied countries (made up of France, the UK, Russia, Italy, the US, Japan, Belgium, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania) that opposed the Central Powers (made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) during WWI that would lead to countries around the world memorializing the 11th of November. Many days before that 11th day of November in 1918, a soldier died in battle. Before leading his men across the Sambre-Oise canal at Orse, Wilfred Owen was awarded the Military Cross (an award he had always hoped to get because it would justify himself as a true war poet) for his gallant leadership and courage when his men stormed an enemy stronghold near the village of Joncourt. This would happen mere months before he was killed in action on November 4th, 1918. Almost exactly one week before the Armistice which would bring an end to the war, he lost his life. Continuing in true poetic fashion, his mother received word of his death as the church bells in Shrewsbury were ringing out in celebration of the signing of the armistice.
His beautiful poetry, which was all published posthumously, memorialized the darker underbelly of war while not being afraid to romanticize the camaraderie of the soldiers. And mere days after the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that would end World War I and mere days after the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest war poets of all time; I leave you with one of my favorite poems. A poem which I think is perfect to commemorate the sacrifices that the men and women of the armed services make; and also bring some light on the tragic poetic ending of the prolific (and in my opinion the greatest) war poets are the perfect mirror to his beautiful but tragic poetry. The Preface to his poetry read “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity;” and will serve as a great preface to this poem.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
Wilfred Owen, 1893 – 1918
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Featured Image: Poster for Veterans Day 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by and attributed to the US Department of Veterans Affairs – VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs poster gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72414272
NY Times front page 11-11-1918, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38072749
Image of Joseph Abrose, an 86 year old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. he is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War attributed to the Department of Defense. Defense Audiovisual Agency; Scene Camera Operator: Mickey Sanborn – National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=734516
A plate from Wilfred Owen’s 1920 Poems book attributed to Unknown – https://archive.org/details/poemsowenwil00owenrich, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11769951