By: Kara E. Solheid, RPR
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, an agreement was reached between Germany and the Allied nations to cease fighting. The agreement was an armistice, which comes from the Latin word arma, meaning weapons, and statium, meaning a stopping. This date, in effect, marked the end of World War I and would continue to be a significant marker in the history of the U.S. armed forces and recognizing the sacrifices that many made for the love of country and the common good of all.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that November 11th should be a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” It wasn’t until 1926, however, that Congress officially recognized the end of WWI and, finally, in 1938, approved an Act observing November 11th as a legal holiday to honor WWI veterans, known as Armistice Day.
As Americans were beginning to turn their attention away from war, as restrictions were lifted and industry began to switch gears and focus on the future, once again our country was called to action and the largest mobilization of servicemen in the United States and the deadliest military conflict in history occurred when we entered World War II, followed by American forces fighting the Korean War. Approximately 450,000 servicemen were killed between the years 1941-1953. In 1954, veterans service organizations, including the American Legion, which was founded in 1919 by veterans returning from WWI, urged Congress to change the name of our nationally-recognized holiday from “Armistice” Day to “Veterans” Day to honor all American veterans, wherever they served, whenever they served. November 11th, Veterans Day, continues to be a day that we, as Americans, pause, reflect, and give thanks for the sacrifices that were made by so many and continue to be made by our military men and women today.
For many years now I have had the privilege of working with the Minnesota American Legion Auxiliary (MNALA), helping to record their history as they volunteer for veterans and veterans’ families under their mantra of “service, not self.” This is an organization comprised of women who not only observe and honor our military veterans on Veterans Day, but also dedicate their time, talent, and financial support to veterans virtually every day of the year.
This year marked my 26th year as the official court reporter of the annual convention of the MNALA. The National American Legion Auxiliary is the largest women’s patriotic service organization in the world, with a membership of over 800,000 worldwide that has selflessly served our veterans since 1919. The state of Minnesota currently has 42,000 members. Each year, at the close of the three-day convention, I am amazed at the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are raised and donated to programs designed to advocate for, assist, and benefit veterans, their families, and our communities. I am humbled by the countless hours these women have spent volunteering at VA homes, hospitals, and medical centers statewide. This is a group of women who are wives, mothers, daughters, granddaughters and sisters of veterans past, present, and still serving. My patriotism is reinforced by these women who carry memories of their loved one like torches to help remind us that justice, freedom, and democracy were fought for and earned because of the sacrifices and the service of our veterans.
The woman who hired me to report the auxiliary’s convention so many years ago asked that I capture the spirit of the convention. My instructions were to write and transcribe everything, the guest speakers, the committee reports, the awards, the elections, the installation of officers, but capture the pride, the solemnity, and humor, as well. So in addition to reporting what’s being said on the convention floor, I also report when there are no words. I distinguish a standing ovation from applause. I note when the audience laughs during festive moments, moments of celebration, and when someone on the platform is having fun and acting silly. I add that gifts are exchanged, even when words aren’t. I describe placement of remembrance poppies in memory of the deceased and musical tributes. Every year the convention takes on its own unique personality and every year I strive to capture their history in the way it’s being presented and every year I am reminded that each day, not just Veterans Day, we owe our respect and gratitude to our veterans and their families.
As Veterans Day approaches, a day of recognition that was started almost 100 years ago, I think about how fortunate I am to live in a just and democratic country and enjoy the many freedoms that we have, but every day I am grateful for the servicemen and servicewomen, as well as their families who stood by them and continue to stand by them, past, present, and still serving.