More than nine decades have passed since the guns fell silent in the war then known as the Great War - the one we now call World War I. It was late morning in France when the armistice ending that conflagration took effect.
All those years ago, many Europeans and Americans expected the fighting's end to usher in an era of peace. The conflict was thought at the time to be a "war to end all wars." That was still very much on President Woodrow Wilson's mind when he proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919, as Armistice Day. The enormous price soldiers had paid in blood and sorrow was to be remembered with reverence, honor and thanks by their fellow countrymen.
The president's words captured his high hopes for a world where war would become more memory than reality:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations."
As we look back on that first national celebration of veterans, there is sadness for we now know that hoped-for world without war was not to be.
The 20th century was destined to be far bloodier than even the doomsayers of 1919 could have imagined. Those heroes of World War I were to be joined by casualties and veterans of other wars and conflicts. The sacrifices American patriots have made for our country have continued to be honored. Since 1954, however, the annual observance has been known as Veterans Day.
Today is not only Veterans Day but part of National Veterans Awareness Week. Congress has established the week containing Veterans Day as a time for increasing the understanding by school-age children of the important role those who serve in the nation's military play in the ongoing success of American democracy. Throughout this land many schools have used last few days as a chance to help young Americans understand why honoring veterans is both a privilege and an obligation.
The Veterans Day proclamation issued in 2011 by President Barack Obama sent precisely the right message. Here is part of what the president said:
"We pay tribute to our veterans, to the fallen, and to their families. To honor their contributions to our nation, let us strive with renewed determination to keep the promises we have made to all who have answered our country's call. As we fulfill our obligations to them, we keep faith with the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve our union, and with the ideals of service and sacrifice upon which our republic was founded."
If there is a Veterans Day observance in your community, pay honor to those who have sacrificed so much by participating. If there is not, pause for a few moments at some point today to say a silent prayer of thanks for those who have borne a heavy burden to make this nation and your freedom possible.