Is there a more mournful sound than “Taps“—the bugle call that is played at military funerals and memorials? That haunting melody conjures mental images of bloody soldiers lying on war-torn fields in the aftermath of battle, of flag-draped caskets being escorted to final resting places by uniformed military personnel, of widows dressed in black watching tearfully as the caisson carrying the remains of their beloved soldier-boy passes by. “Taps” is one of the most poignant reminders we have of the price our veterans have paid for our freedom.
Since August 1914, Europe had been wracked with war. It was seemingly Germany against the world. In April 1917, no longer able to remain neutral, the United States declared war on Germany, thus entering World War I, the “War to end all wars.” “The Great War” cost America over $22 billion dollars, but more significantly, it cost us 126,000 American lives, with another 234,000 wounded. Young men such as Clinton Rogers Dissmore, a young farm boy from Whitehall, Wisconsin, were, in Dissmore’s words, “caught in the draft to increase Uncle Sam’s Army and Navy.”
In late 1918, then-US President Woodrow Wilson finally gained agreement by all parties on the particulars of what came to be known as “The Armistice.” Thus, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the war ended. In the words of one Sergeant T Grady with the US Army, November 11, 1918, was “Cold and raining. Runner in at 10.30 with order to cease firing at 11.000 a.m. Firing continued and we stood by. 306th Machine-Gun Company on my right lost twelve men at 10.55, when a high explosive landed in their position. At 11.00 sharp the shelling ceased on both sides and we don’t know what to say. Captain came up and told us the war was over. We were dumfounded and finally came to and cheered – and it went down the line like wildfire. I reported Jones’ death and marked his grave. Captain conducted a prayer and cried like a baby.”
Soon, our American soldiers began the long but happy trek home. While America was ecstatic to have her surviving sons and husbands and fathers back, she was also sorrowing for those who had paid the supreme price in defense of freedom—an ideal whose price is always high.
And, so, began a national effort to remember the fallen soldiers of World War I. In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, which has become the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans. Armistice Day was officially recognized by a Congressional resolution in 1926 and became a national holiday 12 years later. Because the hope that World War I would indeed be the war to end all wars was dashed less than 25 years later with the onset of yet another bloody and costly war.
Americans wanted to expand Armistice Day–their day of remembrance for fallen veterans–to include those from all wars, and in 1954, President Eisenhower, himself a World War II veteran, signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.
Yet another November 11 is close upon us. We dare not forget the over 22 million veterans living today in the United States, of which over 1million served in World War II, about 2 million served in the Korean War, and more than 7 million served during the Vietnam era. Another 6 million have served since August 1990, which includes Persian Gulf War veterans. During this year alone, over 600,000 American veterans will die. These too must be honored—lest we forget the price that has been paid to secure the freedom we enjoy today. Thank you, veterans, for your part in making America the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”