I’m writing this from my living room in an old stone house in a tiny town in the South of France, where I’ve relocated for a year. This evening I built a fire, roasted some chestnuts, and began writing to you.
Gratitude for sacrifice. It is November 11—Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day—and my little town put on a show that brought tears to my eyes.
The South of France saw enormous loss during World War I, the war to end all wars and the war that brought us Armistice Day. About 12 times as many men from this town died during WWI as during WWII. I missed the start of today’s event at the cemetery, but caught up when the French Tricolore was marched through town, proudly borne by several veterans. A whole parade of townspeople accompanied them to the war memorial, where young children were invited to the front of the crowd to read the names of the fallen, and the local chorus gave a rousing rendition of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise. The mayor gave a speech, as did one or two other dignitaries. I didn’t follow all the French, but I understood enough to know that both of the longer speeches gave enormous credit to the United States for entering the war and helping the Allies win.
And that is really what this is all about: a day to remember those who gave their lives to fight for their nations, and to show our gratitude for their sacrifice. The armistice to end WWI took effect in 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month; here in my town, the ceremony began shortly after 11:11 in the morning (perhaps those parading vets are walking a bit more slowly these days!).