Ceremonies were held throughout Europe today to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
In the US, we call it Veterans Day and honor participants of all wars. Here in the UK, it’s known as Remembrance Day and is specifically about WWI. Almost everyone here wore cloth poppy flowers on their lapels as a symbol of remembrance. I don’t know if it’s the proximity of the battlefields, the relatively large ratios of the dead to their total populations, or a greater sense of history, but Brits and Europeans take these events and anniversaries much more seriously than Americans do.
Most Americans probably have no idea that the Armistice Treaty, ending WWI, was signed in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Britain held a two-minute silence at 11 am this morning to remember those who were killed. Bells tolled around the country and businesses closed their doors (even banks) for those two minutes.
Of the five million men and women who served, only four British veterans are still alive today. The oldest, Henry Allingham, is 112 years old. This will almost certainly be the last significant anniversary that any of those who fought in the First World War will mark. There’s just one American veteran left, aged 107 and living in West Virginia.
Why do we call it Veterans Day in America? It’s a truly American story: in 1953, an Emporia, Kansas, shoe store owner named Al King had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who served in World War I. He got his Congressman to pitch in and the next thing you know, we had ourselves another national holiday, and the WWI veterans had their day of remembrance diluted.
Today, the average American "celebrates" Veterans Day as just another generic holiday, with little fanfare. I think the Brits do it so much better.