Today is Veterans' Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice in 1918 ending the Great War, now known as World War I. The conflict that in four brief years killed nine million soldiers, five million civilians and wounded at least 21 million soldiers and civilians officially ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It began in 1914 with two shots fired into the chest of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist who felt rather keenly the disenfranchisement of his country by Austria and Germany. Veterans' Day was created so that the world would never forget the suffering and loss caused by those two shots.
Today, we remember.
My dad served in the United States Army as part of the Allied Occupational Force in Germany following World War II. Given the year was 1952, technically he was called a Korean War era veteran, although he served only in Europe. He was drafted and answered the call. He served a little less than three years, not with any particular distinction, but with the honor and integrity a young man developed in the 1940s growing up in a small Midwestern town. He came home with a scrapbook full of photos, propaganda leaflets, train tickets and pressed leaves. We still have his dog tags somewhere.
Today we planted the flag of our nation and the flag of the United States Army on his grave. They looked nice in the autumn sun. A gentle breeze was waving. We talked to him and about him. We wished he would come back home.
I know there are millions of others just like us who wish their veteran was home, safe and sound. Growing up we knew so many men and women who had served in the armed forces. These were ordinary people who responded to an often extraordinary need. Some came home to parades and celebrations. Some came home to honors and fame. Others came home to derision and violence. Others came home shattered by wounds and trauma. Some didn't come home at all.
I don't have any poppies today, but I wish I did. Maybe I can find some VFW member tomorrow selling them outside a grocery store. Tonight I'm thinking about all of the veterans I've known and know, and sending them a wish for peace and a sincere thank you. Here are just a few names. Remember them. Remember your own. Just remember. Never, ever forget.