At the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month fighting in World War I came to a halt with an armistice — a cease fire, an end of hostilities.
On the first commemoration of “Armistice Day,” Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the holiday with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations “
At that time the war, which officially ended on June 28, 1919, was said to be “the war to end all wars.”
Here in the United States my 21-year-old great-grandfather returned home from France, my great-grandmother was in her senior year of high school. They had not as yet been introduced.
In Germany, decorated war veteran Adolf Hitler returned to Munich. He described the war as “the greatest of all experiences.” But he was embittered over Germany’s defeat.
This past Sunday marked the 94th anniversary of the World War I armistice. All four of my grandparents remember celebrating “Armistice Day” when they were in school, although there is some lively debate as to when it actually became a school holiday. I looked it up on the Internet and found that as a legal holiday it was enacted (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) in 1938 as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
Growing up in the middle of the Great Depression was not easy but to hear my grandparents talk, it was the best of all possible times. People helped each other out, kids were kids — they played hard and worked hard — they knew how to respect their elders and each other. Everyone went to church and listening to the “Lutheran Hour” on the radio was a major weekly event.
Then came World War II and everyone “pitched” in. My grandma would go from door to door asking for nickels to purchase stamps for war bonds. My grandpa collected tin cans, rubber and other metals to turn over to the government for the war effort.
My “town” grandparents on my mother’s side of the family had “Victory Gardens,” which the entire family, including the children, maintained. These were vegetable and herb gardens to help reduce the pressure on the public food supply that came about from the war effort.
My Grandpa Peters was the youngest in his family. He was born in 1933, 19 years after his father returned from World War I. There was a 12-year gap between him and his oldest brother, Tom, whom he adored. Tom enlisted in World War II one month after Pearl Harbor in 1942.
Grandpa Peters kept a scrap book of that war, which is fascinating to look through. He followed the newspaper accounts every day. He also wrote to his big brother every week, telling him about life at home and how he, too, was contributing to the defeat of Hitler.
He didn’t receive regular letters from Tom, who was overseas. But when he did, it was a major event for the entire family. A letter from Tom was a cause for celebration that ended with prayers for the country, the president, the U.S. allies and of course Tom.
For quite a long period of time there was silence from Tom. My grandpa knew that he was in the “thick of things” in Germany and read the newspapers daily to find out any information. This is something that it is hard for us to understand living in a world of instant news on the Internet and cable television.
Grandpa knew about the Battle of the Bulge and he knew that it was an intense fight that lasted from Dec. 16 to Jan, 25, 1945. What he didn’t know right away was that Tom was there, and so were two other boys from their Lutheran congregation.
The two boys were both killed in that battle; one was 19 the other 20. Tom lost a leg and his hearing in one ear. The congregation thanked God for sparing Tom and deeply mourned the deaths of two of their sons.
Once he came home from Germany, Tom never missed a church service on a Sunday morning, even when he was on vacation. He married a girl from his congregation and raised his two boys to be outstanding members of the community. He even was their Eagle Scout leader.
I had the distinct privilege of knowing Tom; he died when I was 9. I listened to his stories and marveled at his ability to move so gracefully with an artificial leg. He always had a sparkle in his eye and a good word to say to everyone he met.
My grandpa still talks about Tom — about his courage, his strength and his faith in God.
In 1954, the 83rd Congress 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, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
This year on Veterans Day I remember Tom. I also remember the two boys from his congregation who died at the Battle of the Bulge. I also remember the fine men and women now serving in the military. I say the following prayer from “Evangelical Lutheran Worship.”
“Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils that surround them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.” (ELW p. 77)