Tags: history, military, photos, politics, susan-shelley, veterans-day, wwi
Throughout 1918, civil unrest in Germany was at critical point. Following the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia, German workers began a wave of strikes and protest across the country. On September 29th, the Allies had broken through the Hindenburg Line, and defeat during World War I seemed imminent.
After suffering numerous defeats, General Eric Ludendorff urged his leaders to sign an armistice with Allied forces. This did not sit will with newly appointed German Chancellor, Prince Maximillian of Baden, nor with other military leaders.
This move temporarily transferred power back to the German Monarchy, however, it was short-lived.
In the wake of Ludendorff’s resignation, some forty thousand Marines and Sailors defied their orders to attack the British Royal Navy. After admission by their own officers that it was a suicide mission, they overtook the port at Kiel between October 29th and November 3rd.
The siege at Kiel added fuel to revolutionaries across Germany, and over the next few days, workers and soldiers began seizing control of major cities, transportation and manufacturing facilities. Seeing this, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his position as Emperor of the German Empire. Hours later, Prince Maximillian of Baden abdicated and left Friedrich Ebert of the Social Democratic Party in charge.
Ebert, well known for being a pro-worker politician, quickly assembled an interim civilian government, and began the arduous task of restoring order in the wake of widespread insurrection.
At 5:12AM Paris time, November 11th, 1918, in a train carriage in the Compiegne Forest in northern France, a German representative, Matthias Erzberger, signed the Armistice Agreement at the request of Ebert. Erzberger had been told by telegram to sign the Agreement regardless of Allied demands.
Telegrams were dispatched, and all hostilities of World War I were to end at on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. It took some six months of negotiations, however, for Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th, 1919.
On November 11th, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated Armistice Day, declaring it a legal holiday:
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…
Several Congressional resolutions were passed through the years, and finally by 1938, Armistice Day was finally declared a National Holiday.
In 1953, Kansas Congressman Ed Rees learned about a “Veteran’s Day” celebration on Armistice Day in his town of Emporia, Kansas. He was so impressed with the idea that he immediately campaigned to other Congressmen, introduced a bill and the Veteran’s Day Act was signed into Law on June 1st, 1954.
Throughout the years, other laws like the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968, changed the day of observance from November 11th to promote three day weekends. However, in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed off on Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned Veteran’s Day to November 11th in 1978. This preserved the original date set forth for Armistice Day, and gives it a historical tie to help us remember why we celebrate the day.
The reason that we celebrate this day is to honor those who served — or are serving — this country, in war and peace, and to remember the lives lost. It’s a day to celebrate all that we’ve gained, all that we’ve earned and be vigilant for those who are serving and those that we’ve lost.
What amazes me is that in this time of anti-War protesters and cut-and-run Politicians, many schools around the country had day-long celebrations commemorating this day, remembered our troops, and even prayed for them.
Our newly elected Congress and Senate would do well to keep that fact in mind.
* Photo Credit Susan Shelley, Wicked Wench Photography