Submitted by Rick Dietz
When Francis of Assisi was a young man, he dreamed of glory. The type of glory won in battle. He wanted to become a knight. In his first battle he was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War: Francis was a POW. A year later, a weakened and ill Francis was released from imprisonment by his father paying a ransom. Francis later started on a journey to join other soldiers for battle but has a dream and returns home. He gives his armor to a poor knight who would need it. Francis never takes up arms again, but he always has a respect for the honorable knights.
I wonder how St. Francis would feel about celebrating Veteran’s Day. A little history of the holiday might be helpful. Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. In 1918, World War I ended in a stoppage of battle negotiated to begin on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. This date was unofficially celebrated around the world starting the following year. World War I was originally known as the “war to end all wars”. In 1926 Armistice Day became an official U.S. holiday.
Congress passed a resolution on June 4, 1926. In part, the resolution states “Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations… and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” [emphasis mine] Parts of the original festivities for the holiday were prayer services, parades, and people were encouraged to invite individuals from different countries to their celebrations in recognition of solidarity with all people, from all countries.
Armistice Day was originally a day to celebrate peace and friendly relations between people of different countries. I think St. Francis would have been very happy to celebrate peace and solidarity with others around the world. But unfortunately the “war to end all wars” was a dream unfulfilled. The United States became engaged in World War II and the Korean conflict (war).
On June 1, 1954, the 83rd Congress amended the original resolution and replaced the word “armistice” with the word “veterans”. The holiday has become more of a thanksgiving for the sacrifices of our veterans past and present than a celebration of the peace of 1918. The holiday is now for recognizing individuals who served honorably in the armed forces both living and dead (Memorial Day is the remembrance for the dead). While in the United States we have changed the meaning of Armistice Day, many countries who were involved in World War I around the world still observe a form of Armistice Day on or near November 11th. In several countries on the holiday they observe two minutes of silence at 11:00am. The first minute in prayer is for the soldiers who have died. The second minute is to pray for those who survived. Also, they are called to pray not only for the soldiers but the spouses and children of the soldiers. Our own country’s festivities at Arlington National Cemetery will begin at 11:00 am and start at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (the tomb began with an unknown soldier from World War I).
So this Veterans Day, I will be thinking of the origin of the holiday and the wider world commemoration, and celebrate the desire of peace among people of all nations. On November 16th, we have invited a woman from China to stay with us at our home for three months. We know her daughter and look forward to meeting her as this will be her first trip to the United States. Our hope is to build good, peaceful relationships between our two cultures. Also on Veteran’s Day, I’ll also take time to recognize the “knights” of our day and be thankful for their honorable service. I am grateful to God for the strides we have made for peace in our world, knowing that much is yet to be done. Like St. Francis, I want to acknowledge promote the brotherhood and sisterhood we have in common. Maybe Veterans Day is an opportunity. How about you? What are your plans?