Veterans Day to honor living and dead

Originally called Armistice Day, it was a day of remembrance for those who died in the “Great War,” state Office of Veterans Services Director Major Mark Moses said yesterday.

World War I ended with an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, he said. The next year, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day to “be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”

But over the past 90 years, Veterans Day, as it is now called, has changed its meaning and date of celebration. The nation recognizes the holiday today in honor of all veterans, living and dead.

“It’s more an honor for everyone, as opposed to memorial day which is a day for those who lost their lives in service,” said Kaua‘i County Councilman Mel Rapozo, who will deliver a keynote address today at a ceremony at Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery. “I have a huge passion for veterans and I will continue to fight for them as long as I live.”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m., Moses said. But then in 1920, on the second anniversary of the armistice, at the suggestion of church groups President Wilson named the Sunday nearest Nov. 11 Armistice Day Sunday, on which should be held services in the interest of international peace.

The next year, Congress declared Nov. 11 a legal federal holiday to honor all those who participated in the war, both living and dead.

The holiday was further expanded in 1954, with thousands of new veterans resulting from World War II and the Korean War. President Dwight Eisenhower on May 26 signed into law a bill making the holiday for all veterans.

In 1968, Congress passed another law changing the date to the 4th Monday of October to begin in 1971, Moses said. But popular demand returned it to Nov. 11 beginning in 1978.

Moses, who will be delivering a speech in Honolulu, said Veterans Day is largely intended “to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to United States national security are appreciated and to underscore the fact that all of you who served, and your loved ones, have greatly sacrificed as you have performed your sworn duty.”

Gov. Linda Lingle issued a proclamation this week that calls on residents to recognize veterans.

“Every day our Hawai‘i-based troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world make sacrifices so that the same principles of liberty we enjoy are spread throughout the world,” the proclamation states. “Whether Hawai‘i-born or stationed here from the Mainland, these soldiers, sailors and troops are part of our island ‘ohana and share in our aloha spirit.”

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, said especially with two wars going on right now it is appropriate to honor veterans on this day.

“Clearly, we each individually, as well as the state and nation, owe a tremendous debt to those who have served as well as to those who paid the ultimate price and died in the line of service,” he said. “It is only right that we pause for at least one day and reflect.”

Princeville resident Larry Schlang, a Navy veteran, said he will continue to wear his yellow and red bracelets as a reminder to support the troops and fight for freedom “until they all come home or I die, whichever comes first.”

He urged more residents to fly flags at their homes.

“To me, every day should be Veterans Day in this country,” Schlang said.

Rapozo said citizens often forget about veterans.

“I don’t. They’re in my mind every day … especially now,” he said. “We can’t forget what they have done.”

Moses said more than 1 million Americans have given “the last full measure of devotion while serving our nation.”

“We grieve for all of them, and those who most recently joined their ranks in the Global War on Terrorism — our friends, neighbors, relatives and acquaintances,” he said. “For all who have paid the ultimate sacrifice through our country’s conflicts let us together pledge: We will remember them.”

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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