November 11 is Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 (my father’s third birthday) but combat ended about seven months earlier. The Allies and Germany stopped fighting on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Accordingly, November 11, 1918, was considered the end of “the war to end all wars” and in 1938 it became an official holiday. But then World War II and the Korean War happened. So on June 1, 1954, Congress amended the commemoration by changing the word “armistice” to “veterans” in order to honor American veterans of all wars.
Sometime ago I came across the poem I’m sharing with you today. It’s simply called “A Veterans Day Poem.” A portion that’s overly derogatory to politicians has been omitted.
He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he once fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies, they were heroes, every one.
And though sometimes to his neighbors his tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer, since old Joe has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a Veteran died today.
He won’t be mourned by many, just his children and his wife.
For he lived a very ordinary, quiet sort of life.
He had a job and family, going quietly on his way;
And the world won’t note his passing, though a Veteran died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell of their life stories from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Veteran goes unnoticed and unsung.
The politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary Veteran, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps a pension small.
He was just a common Veteran and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his likes again.
If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps a simple headline in the paper that might say:
“Our Country is in Mourning, for a Veteran Died Today.”
Especially next Monday, join me in thanking the women and men respectfully called “veterans” and remember with a thankful heart those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy.