Few Americans know our mid November remembrance, Veterans Day, was called Armistice Day for generations. The day once served to honor only those who fought in World War 1, the “Great War.” WW1 ended, officially, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.
Americans set other dates aside for the veterans of World War 2. We no longer observe V-E or V-J Days (Victory in Europe and Victory in Japan, respectively). Our Korean War and Vietnam vets got left off our calendars. That was wrong.
My dad made a cursory attempt, during my teens, to convince me nothing molded a man like service in the peacetime military. We discussed it back in the late 1970's. His timing suffered. I had seen the films The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. The military held little appeal for me after those movie experiences.
I still think about those conversations with Dad, though. His comment about the “peacetime” military lingers with me like mustard gas in a shell hole. What, in the 20th Century, was “peacetime?” The U.S. started the 1900's by winding up involvement in two separate but simultaneous wars, the Philippine-American War and the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. Sixteen years later, American soldiers slogged through the mud of France and Belgium. Pearl Harbor exploded twenty three years after.
A quick note – WW2 was no more than a continuation of WW1, with a pause to rearm. Anyone with a brain who read the terms of the Treaty of Versailles knew what was coming.
Korea followed WW2 within five years, Vietnam less than a generation later. Other conflicts followed, in Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia.
Nothing has changed. We've been at war the whole of this new century, too.
It takes a special person to don a uniform. Sgt. Henry Gunther, a German-American, was one such special person. He and his family endured growing anti-German sentiment leading up to his service. In spite of the civilian hatred, or perhaps because of it, Gunther went to France to fight for his country, for his freedom. German machine gunners pinned Sgt. Gunther and his men down at war's end. The sergeant fixed his bayonet and charged the machine gun nest, alone, at 10:59 November 11, 1918. Gen. John J. Pershing designated Gunther the last American soldier killed in the Great War.
The likelihood of today's Sgt. Gunthers being sent to a foreign field has grown over the years, not shrunk.
Once again, they command my respect, both the living and the lost. Thank you, veterans.