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October 1, 2004

Armistice Day: A time to say thanks

The next major holiday listed on my calendar is popularly known as Armistice Day on November 11. In more recent years it has been converted to a broader application, honoring the men and women who through the years have brought to a conclusion all wars involving the United States. That's a little complicated and it's really not much of a tribute, but it is about the best we have to offer. It merits our attention. There is one more thing to consider. On Monday, October 11, we will observe "Columbus Day" to celebrate the arrival of Christopher Columbus and his party on this continent in 1492. Our Rotary Club will take the day off and local banks will be closed. Other locations also may be celebrating that day.

This is a big time of year for holidays. In addition to Armistice Day (or whatever the current name is), there is Halloween on October 31, Thanksgiving Day in November, and, of course the holy Christmas Day celebration in December that brings so much along with it.

There may be even more local celebrations in the fall. For example, we in this part of Oklahoma take great delight in memorializing the opening of the Cherokee Outlet in a great land run on September 16, 1893, because it is truly the birthday of our homeland. Foreigners and others unfamiliar with this part of the world are surprised to learn that our ancient history happened so recently, but we are still a new land, a new country, and that must strike others as strange. Most of them come from lands that have been "civilized" much longer than ours. I enclose that word in quotation marks to indicate that the definition is subject to interpretation. "Civilized" may mean one thing to some people and something altogether different to others. Just another example of why our English language is hard for others to understand, sometimes.

But before drifting completely off the next major holiday, let's remember how it all began. The peace terms that formally ended the first World War were signed by the German commanders and the Allied leaders in a railroad car tied up in France. The signing took place at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the "war to end all wars" to a conclusion. Thereafter, 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of November became known as Armistice Day, because the war formally ended at the moment. Later, World War II was ended when the Japanese commanders signed the peace treaty terms aboard the USS Missouri anchored off the coast of Japan as the Supreme Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, stood by and directed the whole operation. From that point on, the end of World War II was added to the end of WW I, all of it incorporated into the Armistice Day observance. And that is why we celebrate both of them on November 11th each year. Complicated? Yes, but that's life as we know it in this century.

We truly owe an unpayable debt to all the service men and women, and the civilians who played such important roles in the last great unpleasantness. A serious thought and a "thank you" are little enough to let them know how much we owe them. Thank God for every one.