By Léo Azambuja
On Nov. 11, 1918, an armistice was signed in France between Germany and the allies who fought in World War I. It represented the end of the war’s western front, which went into effect in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.
Exactly a year later, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent a message expressing how he felt about Armistice Day, and the following was the first sentence of his short address:
“A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations.”
A few years later, in 1926, Congress asked U.S. President Calvin Coolidge to issue a proclamation each year calling for the observance of Nov. 11 as Armistice Day and to hold appropriate celebrations.
But it still wasn’t a holiday. That changed in 1938, when a Congressional Act made Nov. 11 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.’”
It would take until 1945 for World War II veteran Raymond Weeks to ask for all veterans — not just those killed during WWI — to be recognized on Armistice Day. In 1947, with support from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, then Chief of Staff of the Army, Weeks held a celebration in Alabama honoring all U.S. veterans.
Eisenhower was elected U.S. president in 1952, and in May 1954, he signed a bill establishing Armistice Day as an official holiday honoring all veterans. But it wasn’t enough. A month later, Congress amended the bill and changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day.
Meanwhile, Weeks continued to celebrate the holiday each year. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan recognized Weeks as the Father of Veterans Day. Weeks passed away three years later in 1985.
This year’s Veterans Day marks one century of the end of WWI, a date that would later become a national holiday honoring all members of the armed forces, retired or active.
When floats and walking units take the highway in Kapa‘a during the Veterans Day Parade Nov. 3, they will be cherishing “Honor, Duty, Country,” the title of the speech given by U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur during his acceptance of the Sylvanus Thayer Award in May 1962, addressing U.S. Military Academy cadets.
MacArthur was the youngest man to achieve the rank of U.S. general, and one of only five U.S. generals to receive five stars. He fought in several wars, including WWI and WWII, and received more than 100 medals from the U.S. and other countries during his service.
But as much as his valiant actions made him a hero among heroes, MacArthur revealed a side in that acceptance speech, only two years before his death, that showed that more than anyone else, soldiers long for peace rather than war.
“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war,” MacArthur said to the young cadets.
I express the deepest gratitude for all who have served and all who are still in service. I may not like wars, and I long for the day we have peace on Earth. Still, I am deeply grateful for those who sacrifice so much to keep us safe at home.
Mahalo nui loa. Your service is what allows us to be a free nation.