Freedom Is Not Free

Freedom Is Not Free

Graying soldiers from long forgotten engagements and history’s memory, line the streets as the parades proceed in patriotic cadence.  Flags waving in the autumn breeze reclaim a simpler time, a time when all Americans were unified in a common cause.  Love of country, privilege to serve and the ultimate sacrifice are more than just words to these generations.  With thoughts of Flanders Field, Iwo Jima, Inchon Harbor, Hamburger Hill or Khafji; they pay tribute to their brothers and sisters on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  We now call it Veteran’s Day.

The origin of this patriotic remembrance began in a railway carriage in the northern part of France known as the Compiègne Forest on November 11, 1918.  Marshal Ferdinand Foch (it was his railcar), the Allied Commander-In-Chief and Matthias Erzberger, Germany’s representative, signed an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, that at the eleventh hour effectively ended the fighting in World War I — known at the time as “The Great War.”  “All quiet on the Western Front” would become many reporters’ byline as they chronicled this day as the end of “the war to end all wars.”  However, WWI officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France.

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the Eleventh as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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 the nations…”

The first “unknown soldier” (from WWI) was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921.  Inscribed on the western panel of the white marble sarcophagus are the words: “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.”  President Warren G. Harding officiated at the internment ceremonies and since that time it has been tradition that the President or his designee places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

November 11th became a legal federal holiday with the passage of An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) signed into law by President Roosevelt on May 13, 1938.  Known as Armistice Day, this holiday was dedicated to the cause of world peace and was primarily set aside to honor veterans of WWI.  In Europe however, echoes of German dominance and Hitler’s ambition were already threatening that peace and Roosevelt was well aware of the precarious position that freedom held: “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.”  World War II would test the resolve of all free people.

In 1953, an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner by the name of Al King began a campaign to turn Armistice Day into Veterans Day so that “all veterans” including World War II and Korean War soldiers could be honored.  With the help of the Chamber of Commerce, he found that 90% of the merchants and the Board of Education of Emporia were willing to close down on November 11, 1953 to celebrate the first-ever-all-inclusive Veterans Day.  U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, introduced a bill that amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans” successfully pushing it through Congress.  President Dwight Eisenhower signed Public Law 380 on May 26, 1954.  That November, the rest of the nation caught up with Emporia, Kansas and all veterans were honored.

Congress can never let a good thing go unpunished so on June 28, 1968 they passed The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 25) that changed certain holidays, including Veterans Day to a Monday, instead of the actual day.  This would give all federal employees (including Congress) four 3-day weekends per year.  Many states did not agree and continued to celebrate Veteran’s Day on the Eleventh. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of Americans, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. Finally, the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans’ organizations and the American people were recognized.

So on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we honor those that have kept us free.  At a time when our freedoms are under attack from abroad and at home, this special tribute to the men and women that have given so much, has never had greater meaning.  Freedom is not free.