Honoring our Veterans in the WNY Wilds

November 7, 2022

Honoring our Veterans in the WNY Wilds

“May we never forget that freedom isn’t free.”

November is National Veterans and Military Families month and on November 11th the United States observes Veterans Day. This is a public holiday to pay tribute to those who have bravely served in the U.S. Armed Forces. We join those across the country, and around the world in celebrating and honoring the brave men and women who endeavored to make the world a better place no matter the personal sacrifice. Equally important, is the history of Veterans Day.  As it has been said, “There is no future without the path made to it by the past” (Chamber, Aiden, British Author)

World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. However, the fighting ceased seven months prior when an armistice, or military agreement to suspend active hostilities, between the allied nations and Germany went into effect. Though the armistice did not end World War I, it was the agreement that stopped the fighting on the Western Front while the terms of permanent peace were discussed. The Armistice was signed at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”.

During and after World War I, families of fallen American veterans could request to have their loved ones transported anywhere in the U.S at no cost to the family, or choose to have a burial in a permanent U.S. military cemetery established in Europe. With more than 116,000 U.S. military casualties, repatriation was challenging; 40,000 American families chose to have their loved ones returned to the U.S.  France and Great Britain suffered significantly higher casualties and more unknown dead than the United States but had outlawed repatriation of their citizens’ remains. To ease the grief being felt by their citizens, France and Great Britain each repatriated and buried one unknown soldier in a place of great significance, on Armistice Day, November 11, 1920.  In December 1920, New York Congressman and World War I veteran Hamilton Fish Jr. proposed legislation that provided for the burial of one unknown American soldier at a special tomb to be built in Arlington National Cemetery. The purpose of the legislation was “to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead”.  On October 24, 1921 a selection ceremony took place at the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne, France.  Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany was chosen to select the Unknown Soldier by placing a bouquet of white roses on one of the four caskets presented. On November 9, 1921, the Unknown Soldier arrived in Washington, D.C.; the next day there was a public viewing where approximately 90,000 visitors paid their respects and on November 11, 1921, the casket was placed on a horse-drawn caisson and carried in a procession through Washington, D.C.  A state funeral, officiated by President Warren G. Harding, was held at Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, and the Unknown was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On May 13, 1938, the 11th of November or Armistice Day became a legal holiday.  Armistice Day commenced as a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I. In 1954, after World War II, Congress passed a bill that President Eisenhower signed replacing the word “Armistice” with the word “Veterans”. On June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. The focal point for official national ceremonies for Veterans Day is held at the memorial amphitheater built around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

Communities across the globe celebrate Veterans Day with parades and ceremonies. Many of the ceremonies include laying wreaths on the headstones of fallen veterans. This tradition began at the funeral of the Unknown and continues today. Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been a way for individuals and organizations to honor the sacrifice of American service members.  In 1992, a group of volunteers who decorated and laid a trailer load of wreaths at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery has now become a national organization with more than 3,400 participating locations in all 50 states, at sea and abroad.  Wreaths Across America is focused on their mission to remember, honor, and teach.  You can visit Wreaths Across America’s website for information on how you can volunteer and be a part of such an incredible way to honor our fallen U.S. Veterans, https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/.

According to the Veteran’s Association, we have 3,376 veterans living in Allegany County. Our veterans swore to protect the freedoms we often take for granted, they represent the highest ideals of our country and as President Ronald Reagan once said, “May we never forget that freedom isn’t free”.  There are numerous organizations who have pledged to care for and honor our country’s veterans. For assistance or information contact the Allegany County Veteran’s Agency at https://www.alleganyco.gov/departments/veterans-agency/ . No matter how communities or individuals choose to honor the monumental sacrifices made by veterans and their families, we should consider every day, Veterans Day!