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November 7, 1996

Next Monday will bring us the annual observance of Veterans Day throughout this country. Flags will fly from homes and businesses and a few folks will even get the day off. Perry fourth graders will sing patriotic songs that night in the high school auditorium. It used to be called Armistice Day, and it's very likely that not very many people know exactly what that means or why we're doing this.

An "armistice" is defined as an agreement for the general cessation of active hostilities between two or more belligerents. In other words, a peace treaty to end a war. The first official Armistice Day was established to mark the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies (the U.S., Britain and France) and Germany at the end of the first World War. That historic event, bringing to an end the first truly global conflict, occurred at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, so that date was chosen for the observance of Armistice Day. Making it easy to remember was the symmetry of numbers - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The first World War was supposed to be "the war to end wars," so imagine our surprise in 1939, just 21 years later, when Germany and Italy lined up as the Axis powers, later to be joined by Japan, to face off against the Allies -- the U.S., Britain and France -- for another war. In due time, that one was named "the Second World War," or "World War II" for short. I think that name must have come from Time magazine and others in the media because it could easily be made to fit into a one-column headline when shortened to "WWII." But, back to Armistice Day.

The first World War, or WWI, also led to the creation of major veterans organizations, such as the American Legion, and for years our local chapter, the Ellis-Jirous post, sponsored an observance to pay tribute to those who served in that historic conflict. Parades were common, and school children were invited to write essays on the subject. The meaning of Armistice Day was made very clear. The Legion and auxiliary, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and its auxiliary, provided other patriotic programs throughout the year. They were worthwhile organizations and they remained active after World War II ended in the summer of 1945.

Changing times and the advent of smaller wars, like the Korean "conflict," seemed to diminish interest in the VFW, the American Legion and other organizations, and emphasis on the annual observance of Armistice Day waned. On June 1, 1954, President Eisenhower -- the hero of World War II -- signed a bill redesignating the holiday as "Veterans Day," honoring those who served in all wars. The date was changed from November 11 to the Monday nearest November 11. By coincidence that date does fall on a Monday this year. The day is still marked by appropriate ceremonies in many places.

Britain, our staunch ally in both WWI and WWII, has proclaimed the Sunday nearest November 11 as a day of tribute to the dead of both World Wars.

So, there is no "Armistice Day" today as we used to know it, but Veterans Day still calls us to a solemn moment of recognition to honor the men and women of this country who served the flag with honor and the ultimate tribute. It is a serious matter and the day deserves better understanding than it now has.

In days gone by, the time whistle at the Perry power plant would blow promptly at 11 a.m. each November 11, and at that time citizens were urged to reflect quietly on the debt we owe to those fallen service men and women, and to honor all them. Veterans Day still gives us that opportunity even though there won't be a parade or any other formal observance. It doesn't have to be at 11 a.m., and it doesn't have to be just on Monday or on November 11, but somehow now and then, offer a word of thanks to those who helped preserve the liberty that we all now take for granted. Because of them, we in this nation enjoy a way of life that is envied by millions of less fortunate citizens around the world.