The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918 the world fell silent. Soldiers stood still on the battlefield and people across America and Europe paused their daily rituals as the clock mercifully counted down the seconds to the end of “the war to end all wars.” We now know of course that that first, unimaginable war would be followed by a second war even greater and more terrible, and that eventually, November 11 would honor veterans of all wars. But first and for a time, November 11 was recognized as Armistice Day in honor of those veterans of World War I.
In 1926, when the US Congress officially designated the day, the Congressional resolution stated in part “…the 11th of November 1918 marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far-reaching war in human annals, and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed.”
It strikes me as particularly profound that even in the wake of violence and loss of such magnitude, Americans wisely saw fit to memorialize the sacrifices of so many men and women not just with remembrance and gratitude, but with hope. Hope is important. Hope is not frivolous or ornamental, rather, it is, I think, the very point of the great sacrifice to which service men and women knowingly consent in service to Country. The spirt of hope expressed through that first Armistice Day is the greatest way to honor those who have served. Without the hope of something more or of the preservation of the good, the sacrifices of our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers are of little use. It is incumbent on all of us to honor and bear witness to the commitment of those who serve or have served in defense of our great nation by carrying on in hope.
My father, Robert Rogers Cassilly, was a veteran of the Greatest Generation, the men and women revered for their sacrifice in World War II, that second war of unimaginable magnitude. He died this year at the age of 95, having served as a merchant mariner sailing the deadly Atlantic in the early years of WWII and then with the First Infantry Division. Like so many of that greatest generation, his service inspired new generations with hope, and so, just as my family laid to rest one service member, we added another to our ranks as my daughter Ellie shipped to Army basic training just two months after attending her grandfather’s funeral.
To all my brothers and sisters who have answered the call to arms, and to their spouses and children, who so often bravely carry on in the face of life sharply interrupted by absence and loss: no words are sufficient to repay the debt we all owe for the hope you provide, but still we say, thank you for your service.