Who stole Armistice Day?

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By W.V. H. White - Originally Published November 1999

We all know that the Grinch stole Christmas. Determining who stole Armistice Day, and why, is a little more difficult.

Look up Armistice Day in a modem dictionary or encyclopedia and you will be advised to see Veterans Day. That entry most likely will describe Veterans Day as honoring men and women who have served in the United States Armed Services. It may go on to say that it is a legal federal holiday celebrated on Nov. 11.

It wasn't always that way. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 Armistice Day in 1919 to commemorate the end of World War I and to honor the Americans who fought in France, particularly those who gave their lives. Similar actions were taken by France, Great Britain and Canada.

The "Great War" or the "War to End All Wars" ground to a halt when a General Armistice was signed, and on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent. From August 1914 until the end of the war, some 10 million had died and another 20 million were wounded, many horribly maimed. In the relatively short time American forces were engaged, a matter of months, they took 2571,404 battle casualties of whom 53,402 died.

Beyond a doubt, the introduction of fresh American troops, in large numbers, convinced the Germans that further struggle was futile and hastened the end of the war. The willingness of the Americans to fight, and the ability to put together a large war machine in short order established the United States as a major world military power.

Following President Wilson's establishment of Armistice Day, it endured for more than two decades in this country. In 1938, it became a legal federal holiday. Throughout the years it was a patriotic day that rivaled the Fourth of July. There were parades speeches, poster-drawing contests in the schools and all manner of events remembering the sacrifices and victory of the Allies in World War I.

And then came World War II, followed shortly thereafter by the Korean War. The federal government faced a dilemma of sorts-how to honor the dead and veterans of those two wars and any prospective follow-on wars without proliferating national holidays. The government took the easy way out --Armistice Day was redesignated Veterns Day in 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

With a stroke of and pen, the memory World War I was eliminated. It was replaced with something so broad and impersonal it is virtually meaningless.

There are still parades and open houses at some military bases. but Nov. II has largely become Just another day off to shop at the mail or play golf. For a few years, Nov. II was even scrapped in favor of a three-day weekend, but, presumably, citizen complaints caused the restoration of the traditional date.

Little remains to honor Americans who served in World War 1. In contrast to memorials commemorating other wars, monuments in this Country to our heroes of the Great War are few and far between. The good news is that they haven't been forgotten in Europe, There are eight American military cemeteries, each with a memorial chapel. Six are in France, and England and Belgium have one each.

The cemeteries were originally established by the War Department following the war. In 1934, they were transferred to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), There are also 12 monuments and two bronze tablets on the battlefields and elsewhere. These monuments and cemeteries are beautifully maintained by the ABMC and are the resting place of nearly 31.000 known and unidentified dead. They also commemorate almost 4,500 missing.

Every Nov. 11, virtually every French city and town conducts a ceremony to honor its soldiers of World War 1. Those towns that are near American cemeteries pay honor to those dead as well. Ceremonies are also conducted by the French at the American memorials. Visiting these locations is always very moving, but particularly so on Armistice Day.

Here at home, there is at least one ray of hope. There is an effort underway to restore the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.. to the world-class structure and museum it was when opened on Armistice Day 1926,

In 1919, the Liberty Memorial Foundation in Kansas City began a fund-raising effort to build a memorial to express for all time "the gratitude of a grateful people to those who offered and who gave their lives in defense of liberty and our country,"

The site was dedicated in 1921 with an audience of nearly 200,000 in attendance. Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, General John 1. Pershing of the United States, Admiral Sir David Beatty of Great Britain, Gen Armando Diaz of Italy and Lieutenant General Baron Alfonse Jacques of Belgium, all top military leaders, represented their countries. Queen Marie of Romania was another dignitary at the dedication of the Liberty Memorial.

The memorials tower is 217 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at its base. It is flanked by two Museum buildings, and the total complex was considered an architectural masterpiece by many when it was built. However, in the 73 years since then, it has deteriorated and is badly in need of restoration.

A major effort is underway to raise enough money to achieve the restoration and endow future maintenance. The museum, which is the only public museum in the United States devoted exclusively to the history of World War 1, will be enlarged and upgraded. Armistice Day is gone but when this project is completed, the country will have a national monument and museum to enjoy and be proud of.

In 1998, the citizens of Kansas City voted for an 18-month sales tax to help fund the restoration. The state of Missouri is providing state funds to assist the effort. In addition, a charitable fund has been established. Contributions for restoration, completion of the new museum, new exhibits, educational facilities and endowments may be made to: The Liberty Memorial Fund, c/o The Greater Kansas City Community and Affiliated Trusts. 1055 Broadway. Suite 130, Kansas City, MO 64105-1595. One way to contribute to the fund is to purchase a granite brick featuring your name or your honoree in the Walk of Honor. For further information, call (816) 871-5788.

Those interested in donating historical objects, documents, artwork, photographs and other memorabilia should contact: The Liberty Memorial Museum, 100 W. 26th St., Kansas City, MO 641084616, or call (816) 221-1918, fax: (816) 221-8981.

Additional information on the monument, museum and restoration project can be found on the Internet at libertymemorialmuseum.org

General of the Armies John J. Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during the war, wrote: "The memorial also symbolizes the obligation that rests upon present and future generation-, to preserve that for which those men and women offered their all, and from many of whom the supreme sacrifice was accepted. May their memory live on, and may every American who looks upon this noble edifice he inspired by their devotion."

Who stole Armistice Day'? It was stolen by a government that found it convenient to forget and by an American public too apathetic to protest. Unlike Christmas, it will never be returned. But, if the public supports the Liberty Memorial Fund, we will have at least one significant, lasting tribute to those who fought and died in World War 1.