It used to be called Armistice Day. Celebrated on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, this holiday commemorated the end of World War I in 1918. The actual Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year in June of 1919.
Germany, realizing overwhelming defeat, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car in France. This War left millions of soldiers dead or wounded. Many were never identified. A couple years later the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ritual was started.
To honor all veterans and not just those of World War I, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day. This name change took place in 1954. The observance of Veterans Day continued until someone decided the holiday should be moved to the fourth Monday in October. This was done in 1971, much to my displeasure.
I’m somewhat ashamed to say my reasoning wasn’t very patriotic. November 11 fell during deer season in Maine, which meant I had one more day of school and one less day of deer hunting in November. That may not have been a mature way to look at it, but it was important to a teenage kid.
Many states disapproved of this change, and continued to observe the holiday on its original date. Maine was not one of them. Eventually enough people determined the actual date the war ended was of historical significance. The same can be said for Independence Day. It was also changed to a Monday holiday for a while.
In 1978 the original date was restored. I was already in college by then, and November 11 was on a Saturday that year. I remember it well. I was out hunting in the Argyle swamp with my father and I shot a nice five point that day. Again, my priorities were misplaced.
I don’t mean to sound flippant about the whole affair. I know we sometimes don’t appreciate our military like we should. Too often we look upon national holidays as a day off from school or work. I was no different. I even had a great-uncle die in World War I, so I should have been more respectful.
Too often we only think of what is important to us. I have never been to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day or Memorial Day either. When I was young, Memorial Day was more about salmon or trout fishing than it was about honoring my great-uncle Harold Robinson. It shouldn’t have been.
Too many times we look at our young people and criticize them for not showing proper respect. I know in my case, I didn’t always do the right thing for the right reason either. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in an area with such rich military tradition. I don’t know.
One thing I do know is that I’m far from perfect. Because of that I try not to criticize the decisions of others. We have just been through a very ugly election season, almost like a war. I hope as we observe Veterans Day this year our country can start to heal.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).