American leadership, then and now

The countdown to Veterans Day (November 11, 2017) — 5 of 6

In post five of our countdown to Veterans Day, we are discussing global participation in Veterans Day celebrations and how America has been leading the way since 1919. Between now and Veterans Day, we will continue to share the history and importance of honoring our veterans (link to buy the Honor and Remember flag).

The United States, a global leader

The United States is among a small handful of nations in the world to recognize Veterans Day with federal and state holidays. However, more than 20 other nations still honor their veterans on or near November 11 each year. From the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth) to European nations on both sides of World War I, to Hong Kong, to the corner of the globe and Australia, countries follow the example set by the United States in 1919 by honoring their fallen military personnel.

A common observance

All over the world, communities band across nations to honor their veterans with parades, observances and ceremonies. For various reasons, the date of observance simply cannot be uniform on a worldwide scale. However, while most nations still refer to the holiday as Remembrance Day, their other traditions have evolved right along with those here at home in America. Poppies are now a global symbol of remembrance, either of all who served or of only those who have died. Parades festooned with military and national flags flow through the streets in cities everywhere, often marching in time with their respective military bands and attended by observers of every class. Patriotism and hope for peace emanate from the loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of the same, in the same manner that the feelings spring forth here.

Closest ties

Though the world is, in many ways, united in its honoring of fallen heroes on or near Veterans Day, some of our allies follow our example more closely than others. For example, in Canada, an 11:00 a.m. ceremony includes the singing of the poem “In Flanders Fields” and a 21-gun salute while the general public place poppies at the Canadian version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the United Kingdom, poppies are laid by representatives of the Crown at the various local branches of the Royal British Legion, and a two minute silence is observed across the nation at 11:00 a.m. And in Australia, children read the "Pledge of Remembrance" and buglers from the Australian Defense Force play on street corners as passers by stop to observe a moment of silence to recitals of the “Last Post.” In fact, Australia is the point of origin for one of the most memorable Veterans Day/Remembrance Day speeches ever given, this eulogy of the Unknown Australian Soldier from 1993.

"We do not know this Australian's name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.

Yet he has always been among those whom we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century.

He is all of them. And he is one of us.

This Australia and the Australia he knew are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all-consuming, a world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination.

He may have been one of those who believed that the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are he went for no other reason than that he believed it was his duty - the duty he owed his country and his King.

Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat; and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible, war -  we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.

But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true.

For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.

On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.

The Unknown Australian Soldier we inter today was one of those who by his deeds proved that real nobility and grandeur belong not to empires and nations but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.

That is surely at the heart of the ANZAC story, the Australian legend which emerged from the war. It is a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity. It is a democratic tradition, the tradition in which Australians have gone to war ever since.

This Unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace; or to assert a soldier's character above a civilian's; or one race or one nation or one religion above another; or men above women; or the war in which he fought and died above any other war; or of one generation above any that has or will come later.

The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia.

His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.

We have lost more than 100,000 lives, and with them all their love of this country and all their hope and energy.

We have gained a legend: a story of bravery and sacrifice and, with it, a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.

It is not too much to hope, therefore, that this Unknown Australian Soldier might continue to serve his country - he might enshrine a nation's love of peace and remind us that in the sacrifice of the men and women whose names are recorded here there is faith enough for all of us.”

-The Hon. P.J. Keating MP, Prime Minister of Australia

Veterans Day, celebrated each year on November 11, is one of those holidays that receives very little preemptive consideration in comparison to other nationally observed holidays. If you missed the previous posts in this series, read

  1. Remembering the day of remembrance
  2. Honor for one becomes honor for all
  3. An American celebration of peace
  4. What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

Know a veteran?

Many people honor veterans on or near Veterans Day in many different ways. Celebrations and ceremonies range from school plays to outdoor parades to somber graveside observances. It is common to see children proudly waving personal American flags, to see military flags waving in parades, or for friends and loved ones to place ceremonial markers at appropriate grave-sites.
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Have a great day, from your friends at LIBERTY FLAGS, The American Wave®.