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Local View: Handkerchief in hand, honor those who served

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. At the time it was called "The Great War," and while the treaty ending the war wasn't signed until June of 1919, hostilities officially ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, as agreed by the different countries. The politicians and generals thought it a nice pat date to end hostilities, even though they could have stopped the fighting long before.

Therefore, more men were killed and wounded to suit a convenient date. Unfortunately, some soldiers were killed after the Nov. 11 cease fire.

Still, 11/11/11 became a symbol of the end of "the war to end all wars." Then-President Woodrow Wilson, In November 1919, proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of "Armistice Day" with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

Of course, World War I wasn't the war to end all wars. Future bloody conflicts awaited our country in the next decades. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the arbiter of "Victory in Europe" in World War II, signed into law changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day, saying, "In order to ensure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose."

Eisenhower's signing of the law took effect while my grandfather, Nels Boe, was still alive. He served in France during the last year of the war, was gassed, and suffered from it until his death in the 1970s. I only have vague memories of him, but some of his war memorabilia was passed on to me after my father, a career veteran, passed away. Among the various nicknacks is a large-bound book that commemorated the American forces' efforts in France, a pamphlet from the French government that praised the American forces, and an obviously used handkerchief, probably the most personal item of the small collection. I'm sure on Nov. 11, 1918, my grandfather started counting the days until he would be shipped back home to Montana. I felt that way when the Gulf War ended. Nov. 11 would remain an important date for Nels.

According to the VA website, Veterans Day continues to be observed on Nov. 11, regardless of what day of the week it falls. The observance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11 (as opposed to including it as part of a three-day holiday) not only preserves the historical significance of the date but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

I honor all my fellow veterans, including my father and grandfather, on this day. But I also commemorate the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in our world's history 100 years ago this weekend. Out of that carnage was sparked the idea of Veterans Day.

In a way, I have a personal link to the day through my grandfather. So I may hold that worn handkerchief, read through the old commemorative book, and remember — and, of course, be somewhat whimsically thankful I'm alive and able to write this column because my grandfather survived the war.

Dave Boe is a communications professional and a veteran who lives in Duluth.