Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ninety-seven November 11ths Ago: Armistice Day

We in the States now honor all our veterans, living and dead, on November 11th.  The original reason for this holiday, observed throughout the Western world, was the Armistice with Germany in 1918.  On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, the Roman soldier who renounced war, the First World War ended. 

The Armistice was signed about five a.m. on November 11th, and the news was rushed to the hostile armies.  Yet the fighting raged on, pointlessly, and men continued to die, right up to the last minute before the cease-fire took effect: a sobering testimony to the effects of original sin.  2,738 men perished on the last day of the war.

Except for a few centenarians who would have been children at the time, this fratricidal slaughter has passed out of living memory, and there are now no more living veterans.  The last American veteran of that war, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 at the age of 110.  The last veteran of the defeated Central Powers, Franz K√ľnstler, died in 2008 at the age of 107.  The last veteran on either side, Florence Green of the United Kingdom, died in 2012, also at the age of 110.

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In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.