It began as a way of remembering the end of World War I. That was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." I remember my aunt saying every year about the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was still Armistice Day in her mind.
As bad as WW I was, it did not end all wars. The politics and reactions to the Germans and the war only set up the conditions for the next, and far worse, one. World War II was the epitome of total war across 90% of the world's population- and many of us as we became the children of that war's veterans.
If you have been following along with my posts on my Dad and the 10th Armored Division in 1944 you know I have been digging around in the war that was raging unmercifully 70 years ago. I realized I knew very little about many things connected to the war. For most of my generation World War II was both reality and fantasy. The reality was seen in the people we loved, even if we couldn't name it.
The fantasy was in some of the war movies that made it look "easy" in a difficult way. John Wayne was the quintessential war hero. Then there was The Guns of Navarone that pictured the ingenuity of Americans or Bridge on the River Kwai that began to show the awful ambiguities of that war and any war. Two World War II heroes were elected president in a row- Eisenhower who led the troops and John F. Kennedy who was nearly lost in it.
The Longest Day, still with the somewhat easier picture of the war, did come along and change that view as we saw the re-enactment of D-Day. Saving Private Ryan turned our minds to the trauma our soldiers experienced in that invasion.
The current movie, Fury, is an extraordinary film that does not in any way, shape, or form sugar coat the experience of the armored divisions in WW II. It is intense, bloody, and frightening- as I am sure war is. It is also poignant. I am sure the movie is not anywhere near as intense, frightening and moving as the real experience was.
So this year, even more than usual, I remember my Dad and his band of brothers, especially the medics like him who were "non-combatants" but were just as heavily involved in the horror as anyone else. I will never know my Dad's specific stories, the things he saw that kept him awake at night and perhaps ate away at him in ways that I can't imagine.
I remember him as well as the veterans of the wars since from Korea through Vietnam and the Gulf Wars into Afghanistan. I pray for their comfort, relief if needed from the traumas they faced, and a sense of having done what they were called to do.
And above all else, I pray that we can stop learning war and learn ways of peace as a world-wide experience.