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Armistice Day - of Poppies and Poetry

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

At the 11 hour, on the 11 day of the 11 month (1918) the guns of World War One fell silent. It had been a "war to end all wars". That day is known as Armistice Day, to those in the British commonwealth. In America it has become known as Veterans Day, and I will explain more about that later in this post.

However, I wanted to take a moment to explain the reason for the header picture. As the world looks back on different times of both war and peace, there are often images or symbols that become important in remembering those times. When we see either a swastika or a yellow six-pointed star, we often are reminded of the events of World War Two.

While many may recognize these symbols, not all may know where the symbols originate from. Poetry has been used by people to both celebrate or remember and process the events of war. In America, one of these famous poems is The Defense of Fort McHenry (The Star Spangled Banner) by Frances Scott Key. This later became America's national anthem.

Secondly, many poems and pieces of art have come from the tragedies of the Second World War. One of the poems that has become important in remembering the Holocaust (and is often sung at Holocaust Remembrance ceremonies) is Hannah Szenes [Senesh] Eli Eli (A Walk to Cesarea).

"Eli, Eli

Shelo yigamer le'olam:

Hachol vehayam

Rishrush shel hamayim

Berak hashamayim

Tefilat ha'adam."

or in English:

My God, My God

May these things never end: The sand and the sea

The rustle of the water The lightning in the sky

Man's prayer.

Hannah Szenes was a Jewish Paratrooper. She "was one of 37 Jews from Mandatory Palestine parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz." (1) She ended up dying by firing squad on 7 November 1944, she was twenty-three years old. (2)

Going back in time, the poppy has become the symbol for remembering WWI, in Europe. This flower was made popular by a poem. The poem describes the graves and those who died in the fighting in Flanders Field or the Ypres Salient in Belgum. A Canadian doctor named John McCrae, who tended the injured, wrote the poem called In Flanders Field.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row,     That mark our place; and in the sky     The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,     Loved and were loved, and now we lie,  In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw     The torch; be yours to hold it high.     If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow         In Flanders fields.

It was this poem that led the poppy to become the symbol of Remembrance for Great Britain and the commonwealth countries.

However, the British and those in the commonwealth are not the only ones to celebrate Armistice Day, we celebrate it just with a different name. Now the reason that we Americans celebrate this holiday as called Veterans Day instead of Armistice Day, is because we as a nation wanted the opportunity to honor more than just those who fought in World War One.

"An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars." (2)

While neither of my grandfathers served in the military, both of my husband's grandfathers served in the Marine Corps. My husband's paternal grandfather served in Korea (his story is in the video below). About a week after the war began, on 25 June 1950, his unit was told that they would be going to Korea. He was assigned to the 3rd battalion 5th marine regiment as a technician that took care of the radio gear for the Forward Control Officer who provided air support of the army.

My husband's maternal grandfather served in the Marine Corp from 1954 - 1956. He attended boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina. After boot camp, he worked repairing typewriters and duplicating machines. One of the perks of his job was being able to drive his own jeep, however because he had his own jeep all his officers expected rides! For the first three months of 1956, he was stationed in Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, standing guard duty at an aviation fuel depot.

I hope this blog post has helped you to both appreciate those who serve in the military and the holiday that reminds us to remember their service.

Happy Veterans Day!


Footnotes for quotes:

(3) ~ History of Veterans Affairs


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