By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel
This Veterans Day Sunday, Nov. 11, marks the 100th anniversary of the Great War from 1914 to 1918 ending.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns were finally silent.
Men who only minutes earlier had been doing their best to kill their enemies cautiously came up out of their trenches without their rifles to begin walking to the middle of No Man’s Land.
Former enemies shook hands and some hugged each other, if for no other reason that they had survived.
It was the last war where men marched into combat singing. Human losses from it had been so great that people optimistically spoke of it as the “War to End All Wars.”
President Woodrow Wilson declared the war had been fought to “make the world safe for democracy.” That turned out to be a false hope within two decades. Then the Great War became known as World War I after 1930s dictators started World War II in September 1939.
Several months after the armistice, in February 1919, the American Legion was organized. Legend has it a group of ex-officers met at Harry’s American Bar in Paris, had a few drinks and started thinking about an organization for soldiers who had served in Europe in the American Expeditionary Force.
After all, the soldiers who fought with General Washington had their mutual support group, and Civil War veterans were organized into the Grand Army of the Republic or the Sons of the Confederacy.
The lounge setting made a good story and maybe a few slightly-lubricated men talked about it.
The organizational work took place at the YMCA under the direction of Gen. Pershing and Lt. Col. Theo-dore Roosevelt, the son of the late president. The Legion charter was approved by Congress in fall 1919, with Nov. 11 designated as Armistice Day to remember those who had served “over there.”
Of course World War I was not the “war to end all wars.” In 1954 the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to include all men and women in all military branches who served our country.
Here, as in most communities across the country, there will again be a brief observance on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Details will soon be announced.
This year, the Holland Windmill Chorus will be at All Saints’ Episcopal Church on the corner of Hoffman and Grand Streets, Sauga-tuck, for a 4 p.m. concert of patriotic and Americana music as a tribute to our area veterans. Save the time and date, please, so you can be here.
There have been at least three milestone events here this year with The Commercial Record, Village (now City) of Saugatuck and All Saints’ all celebrating their 150th anniversaries.
This centennial of the end of World War I, and with it remembering and thanking all of our veterans, is the biggest and most important of all.