It was supposed to be the war to end all wars.
That was what they called it – The Great War, which ravaged Europe from July 1914 to November 1918. More than 16 million people were killed and more than 20 million wounded in a bloody event that toppled four imperial regimes and redrew the maps of Europe.
It was on Nov. 11, 1918, that the armistice ending the war was signed. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, one of the most brutal chapters in human history closed.
Looking back now, it seems obvious there could be no war to end all wars. Conflict is encoded in our DNA, a facet of the human condition we seem unable to shake. In fact, some of the outcomes of World War I, we now know, set the stage for a second worldwide conflict just one generation later.
Most of those who were there are gone now, and the memories of those who remain are fading in time. But photos and writings remain, historical accounts of events so horrific one can understand why the people who lived through them could not conceive anything so atrocious could happen again.
After World War II, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in America. While the date, Nov. 11, still marks the anniversary of the end of World War I, the occasion now honors all veterans.
At the MidWeek, we sought out five veterans – one who served in World War II, one who served in Korea, one who served in Vietnam, one who served in Afghanistan and one who served in Iraq – for this week’s cover story. It was grueling cutting the stories down to fit in our print edition; find the complete stories here.
In this week’s On the Record, you can read a veteran’s account of the war that didn’t happen. Frank Bilardello was in the thick of the action during the Cuban missile crisis – an event that could have spawned World War III.
Veterans Day is on a Sunday this year, which can make it a little difficult for organizers of services and memorials to schedule their tributes. Many are being scheduled for Friday or Monday instead. I’ve been made aware of three – at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 12, there will be a ceremony at the flagpole at Castle Drive and College Avenue in DeKalb, and another at the same time at the flagpole in front of Kishwaukee College in Malta. From 7:30 to 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9, Sycamore High School will host its annual event, which includes a ceremony and veteran-related displays.
I’m quite sure there are other public ceremonies elsewhere in the community. Taking the time to stand with others is an easy way to observe Veterans Day.
If you can’t get to a ceremony, mark the day in your own way. Say a prayer, say the Pledge of Allegiance, take a moment of silence and just think about those who have served. And if you see a vet – whether it’s a fresh-faced young person in fatigues or an old man with a VFW pin on his hat – thank them.
You may owe them more than you know.