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Veterans Day 2022

November 11, 2022


Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine and China’s saber-rattling about Taiwan remind us that the world remains a dangerous place. Although most of humankind longs for peace, conflict has been an ever-present scourge throughout history. As most people know, the origins of Veterans Day can be traced to the First World War. That conflict was so brutal, and so many young men died, people hoped it would mark the end of all war. In fact, the phrase “the war to end war” became a rallying cry. Wikipedia explains, “During August 1914, immediately after the outbreak of the war, British author and social commentator H. G. Wells published a number of articles in London newspapers that subsequently appeared as a book entitled The War That Will End War. He blamed the Central Powers for starting the war and argued that only the defeat of German militarism could bring about an end. He used the shorter form, ‘the war to end war’, [in a subsequent book entitled] In the Fourth Year (1918), in which he noted that the phrase ‘got into circulation’ in the second half of 1914. It became one of the most common catchphrases of the First World War.”[1]


Unlike most national holidays, which fall on Mondays so workers can enjoy a three-day weekend, Veterans Day is always celebrated on 11 November. History.com explains, “Veterans Day is a U.S. legal holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars. … In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I, then known as ‘the Great War.’ Commemorated in many countries as Armistice Day the following year, November 11th became a federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became known as Veterans Day.”[2] The last American soldier (and probably the last allied soldier) to die during the First World War was killed one minute prior to the Armistice taking effect. The soldier’s name was Henry Nicholas John Gunther.


Gunther was a second-generation German-American who was working as a bookkeeper and clerk when he was drafted in 1917. He was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant and was a quartermaster responsible for clothing in his military unit. He arrived in France in July 1918 as part of the incoming American Expeditionary Forces. Like many soldiers, he found the conditions at the front deplorable. When he wrote a letter home describing those “miserable conditions,” he unwisely advised a friend to try anything to avoid being drafted. His letter was intercepted by an Army postal censor and, as a result of his counsel to his friend, Gunther was demoted from sergeant to private. He was seeking to regain his rank when he was killed in combat.[3]


On the day of his death, Gunther’s unit, fighting on the Western Front, approached a roadblock of two German machine guns in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers near Meuse, in Lorraine. Wikipedia reports, “Gunther got up, against the orders of his close friend and now sergeant, Ernest Powell, and charged with his bayonet. The German soldiers, already aware of the Armistice that would take effect in one minute, tried to wave Gunther away. He kept going and fired ‘a shot or two’. When he got too close to the machine guns, he was shot in a short burst of automatic fire and killed instantly. The writer James M. Cain, then a reporter for the local daily newspaper, The Sun, interviewed Gunther’s comrades afterward and wrote that ‘Gunther brooded a great deal over his recent reduction in rank, and became obsessed with a determination to make good before his officers and fellow soldiers’. … The Army posthumously restored his rank of sergeant and awarded him a Divisional Citation for Gallantry in Action and the Distinguished Service Cross. … A commemorative plaque was placed at the grave of Henry Gunther in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore on November 11, 2010.” Sergeant Gunther’s story is tragic, but it’s just one of the stories that could be told. An estimated 9.7 million military personnel were killed during the First World War.


Unlike Memorial Day, which honors those who have fallen in battle, Veterans Day is set aside to honor all who have served in the nation’s military. The Veterans Administration notes, “The theme for Veterans Day 2022 is ‘Honor.’ Veterans are proud of their military service in defending our Nation. Honor reflects the military value and tradition of answering the call to duty. There is distinct honor in serving to protect our way of life and the Constitution of the United States of America.” History.com notes, “Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans — living or dead — but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.”[4] As we now know, a small number of veterans failed to defend the Constitution on 6 January 2020. Their insurrectionist actions should not detract from the valor and honor shown by the vast majority of veterans who have honorably served and kept their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. Today, over two million Americans serve in our armed forces and there are approximately 19 million veterans living among us. Their stories, like Sergeant Gunther’s, deserve to be heard and their dedication to the country deserves to be honored.


[1] “The war to end war,” Wikipedia.
[2] Staff, “Veterans Day 2021,” History.com, 27 April 2021.
[3] “Henry Gunther,” Wikipedia.
[4] Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, “The 2022 National Veterans Day Poster Contest Winner,” Veterans Administration, 2022.

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