Veterans Day and the World War I armistice

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The United States has recognized November 11 as Veterans Day since 1954. But we’ve been observing this date even longer — since 1919, in fact, when it was known as Armistice Day. November 11 marks the anniversary of the WWI armistice and is observed as a day of remembrance for WWI veterans. In honor of them, this posts looks at items from some of our WWI-related collections.

This is the back page of a piece of sheet music from 1922, a march written to commemorate the soldiers’ service:

page of sheet music

A letter from Clark Weir, deployed in France, to his parents in October 1918, discusses rumors of an armistice in the works.

Alston Fitts writes to his wife Mary about the Allies’ “wonderful and complete” victory in a letter from November 13, 1918. The soldiers’ future movements, however, were still uncertain.

In a letter from December 5, 1918, written to a fallen comrade’s parents, R. B. Cater also discusses rumors of the future, and he describes the soldiers’ reactions to the armistice as subdued, as the news was “too great to realize”:

Cater letter

Porter Rudolf writes to his father from France on November 21, 1918, that “the great day which we have all been fighting and waiting for has finally arrived when on the misty and foggy morning of Nov. 11 – 1918 at 11 o’clock hostilities ceased.”

He goes on to describe in detail the events of the 10th and 11th, and how proud he was that he was still “in the live” when the armistice went into effect:

P. B. Rudolf letter

Our Digital Collections contain hundreds of letters like this, from soldiers abroad to their families at home, from the Civil War to WWII. Those personal reactions and stories are invaluable tools for getting beyond the historical big picture of the politics and into the war “in the live.”

As President Obama wrote in his proclamation Veterans Day, 2012, “Our men and women in uniform have taught us about strength, duty, devotion, resolve — cornerstones of a commitment to protect and defend that has kept our country safe for over 200 years. In war and in peace, their service has been selfless and their accomplishments have been extraordinary.”

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