One hundred years ago tomorrow, a day marked forever by the numbers 11.11.11.
That was the moment, at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, that an armistice was signed, ending World War I — still the deadliest, bloodiest and most grotesque war in the history of the planet.
A century later, the human wreckage of that “war to end all wars” continues to challenge the imagination.
Nine million combatants dead, along with six million civilians. Tens of thousands of victims of buried explosives and the indiscriminate use of poison chemicals.
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Even on that final day, as the armistice was about to be signed, another 10,900 killed.
But at 11.11.11, as a New York Times reporter wrote, “four years’ killing and massacre stopped, as if God had swept His omnipotent finger across the scene of world carnage and cried, ‘Enough!’”
It is that moment, that day we celebrate tomorrow, Veterans Day.
I confess that for many veterans, including this one, Nov. 11 has generally been just another day.
I never marched in a parade, never joined a veterans’ organization.
I did enjoy the benefits of the GI education bill, but I’ve never visited a Veterans Affairs hospital, never sought a VA home loan.
Nor have I been able to take advantage of military discounts that are often available for active and retired veterans (although on Sunday several stores and restaurants are offering discounts to all veterans — a free donut at Dunkin Donuts, free wings at Hooters, 10 percent off groceries at Publix.)
When I mustered out, I left my military service behind and never looked back.
In my four years (between Korea and Vietnam), I never saw combat and always came up short when measuring my military service against those who had gone into battle and lost a limb or a life fighting for their country.
Still, I’ve never been far away. I encouraged two sons into military service (the Navy, unfortunately for this old Marine); one of them retired after 20 years and still works as a civilian at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.
I’m proud of them and proud of all young men and women who remain in harm’s way in terrifying lands as well as all those who have kept America safe over all these years.
“Thank you for your service” is not an empty platitude. We truly do thank our veterans for their service and pray there is never another “war to end all wars.”