Tip of the cap to all veterans out there. It’s entirely inadequate to thank verbally or in print those that have either put their lives on hold or gave them up entirely to defend our ideals, but I will do it here, regardless. But while thinking of and paying respect to those who served, Veteran’s Day always makes me think of the original November 11 – the one in 1918 – that we continue to commemorate. That day was noteworthy for a jarring, brazen disregard for the life and wellbeing of the men in American and Allied uniforms.
After days of negotiation, the German and Allied armies agreed to a cessation of hostilities at 5 a.m. on the morning of the 11th. For reasons still not entirely clear, it did not go into effect until six hours later, at 11 a.m. (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month….one hopes that this symmetry, albeit cool, was not the reason). As you might expect, although news traveled quickly, fighting continued throughout the Western Front in sectors that had not received word, and in several cases, even in sectors that did; meaning that although the war would officially end before lunch, several commanders put their troops into action anyway. A staggering 2,798 men died on the final day of the war. The final British casualty was recorded at 10:58. The final American, at 10:59, charging into a line of German troops that was desperately trying to wave him back.
This isn’t one of those things that seem crazy only after the passage of time. Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American forces in France, had to testify about it before Congress. In France, the graves of men who died on the 11th are backdated to the 10th to avoid looking senseless.
You can read more in depth about the final day of the war in this top-notch effort by Joseph Persico. It’s a reminder that – every bit as important as honoring those who have served – it’s important to keep an unwavering eye on the people, in and out of uniform, that are deciding where those who serve go and what happens to them.