Ninety-one years ago today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we vowed to end all wars.
We broke our word.
My father was a combat veteran of World War I. He enlisted in 1917, and at the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in France, he was gassed with phosgene, mustard and chlorine gas.
He woke up on the battlefield where the 78th Infantry Division had fought. He awoke - leaning against a tree - among dead comrades. Medics found him and he was evacuated to Dijon, France, for rehab and then returned to duty, and mustered out in early 1919. His alimentary canal was destroyed forever, even though he lived to age 89.
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, guns fell silent on the western front and an "armistice" was signed. It was the end of the "war to end all wars."
When I was a young man, I notice that on every Armistice Day, my mother and her Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion friends sold paper poppies - replicas of WW1 poppies of Flanders Fields. Here is the poem that characterized that great war that took more than 20 million military and civilian lives worldwide:
"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 your 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."
A year later, after the war was ended, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the day should be recalled. In 1926, the "Armistice Day" national holiday was put in place by Congress and remained until 1954 when it was decided that Armistice Day would be expanded to Veterans Day, honoring the veterans of all American wars.
I tend to be a student of history. In the 400-odd years since modern people lived in this part of the world, fewer than 600 million have lived in what is now the United States. Today, 310 million - more than half of the folks who have ever lived here - are alive today.
Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who have served in the military of the United States. During the past 400 hundred years, nearly 50 million people have served in our armed forces, or about 8 percent of our population. Of the near 50 million who have served, fewer than 2 percent have died in combat. In the past 20 years, fewer than 0.1 percent have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
But a young, dead soldier is a sad addition to our nations's history. Each life is precious and should not be wasted. Additionally, of all the vets in our four-century history, nearly 55 percent are alive today.
So, let's not forget Flanders Fields, or Shiloh, or San Juan Hill, or Omaha Beach, or Baghdad, or Panama, or Kabul.
God Bless America, our community and our nation's veterans.
(Col. Dick Manion, U.S. Army retired, of Grovetown, served in the field artillery in Korea and Vietnam.)
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