On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns of Europe fell silent. We in the US know of November 11th as Veterans’ Day, a holiday to honor those who have served in our military forces.
Sadly, the day isn’t thought of much outside the military. The President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. As it is not usually a day off of work, most department stores don’t even bother with announcing a sale. A news story about Obama’s plans for Veterans’ Day 2011 sums up the lack of gravitas our culture gives to the day. After quoting the news release that Obama would attend the ceremonies at Arlington and then fly to San Diego to watch a football game with the crew of the USS Carl Vinson, the report concluded:
Will you be tuning in to watch the historic event? If nothing else it will be cool to watch a game on a war machine that can literally wipe out an entire city.
I didn’t know much about Veterans’ Day until we moved to London. From the beginning of November to the 11th or the second Sunday, Remberance Sunday, people wear commemorative poppies on their lapels. The British Legion sells the pins as a fund raiser for wounded veterans. (The American Legion does as well, but on a small scale.) On both days, people observe a moment of silence at 11 am. Why two days? During WWII, the moment of silence was moved to the closest Sunday so as not to interfere with wartime production. After WWII ended, the double observance remained, perhaps as a reminder as to why the ceremony had to move.