Veterans Day

18poster_lowresVeterans Day is celebrated on November 11 to honor and thank all military personnel who served the United States in all wars, particularly living veterans.

It was originally called Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I. World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. But, the fighting ended about seven months before this date, when the Allies and Germany put into effect an armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, was greatly considered the end of “the war to end all wars” and dubbed Armistice Day.

In 1926, Congress officially recognized November 11 as the end of the war, and in 1938, it became an official holiday. The holiday was a day set aside to honor the veterans of World War I. However, after World War II and the Korean War, Congress amended the commemoration yet again by changing the word “armistice” to “veterans” so the day would honor American veterans of all wars.  

Other countries also celebrate Veterans Day. Canada, Great Britain, and Australia call November 11 “Remembrance Day.” Canada’s observance is pretty close to our own, except many of its citizens wear red poppy flowers to honor their war dead. In Australia, the day is similar to our Memorial Day.

We now always acknowledge November 11 as Veterans Day as this “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” (US Department of Veterans Affairs), but this wasn’t always the case. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed by Congress, and it moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. But in 1975 President Gerald Ford returned Veterans Day to November 11, citing the important historical significance of the date.

Resources for veterans and their families:
Virginia Department of Veterans Services
Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors
Mitchell Hash Foundation (local organization)
Legal Services for Veterans

Books about Veterans Day:
Caught Up in Time: Oral History Narratives of Appalachian Vietnam Veterans by John Hennen
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
Down Range: A Transitioning Veteran’s Career Guide to Life’s Next Phase by James D. Murphy and William M. Duke

WWI Exhibit at Central

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The Central Library has a traveling exhibition of documents, images, and interpretive texts about World War I prepared by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History available on the third floor of the library for patrons to view. This exhibit is part of a grant provided by Library of America, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

To mark the 100th anniversary of the nation’s entry into the war in 1917, World War I and America brought together members of the veteran community with the general public in both libraries and museums around the country. Veterans and their families, together with the general public explored the continuing relevance of the war by reading, discussing, and sharing insights into the writings of Americans who experienced war firsthand.

The exhibit will be displayed at the Central Library until November 20.

“There isn’t always an explanation for everything.”

61h05xx7u-lBooks on Tap read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway  at Champion Brewery on November 2. Ostensibly a novel about an American ambulance driver and English nurse who fall in love at the Italian Front during World War I, it was quickly recognized as “one of the few great war stories in American literature.” The plight of the main character, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, closely mirrors the author’s experience in Italy during the war. They both drove ambulances, served briefly (Frederic seems to fight for two days within the book), suffered severe knee injuries in a mortar attack which left the men around them dead and received Italian war medals. They then both fell in love with a nurse while recovering in Milan, but in Hemingway’s case the affection was not shared.

Not all participants had read Hemingway previously and those who had didn’t recall all the details of this book. The first thing we discussed was the tone of the novel. Like Hemingway’s other works, it is terse but in this case it is not evocative. Two of us listened to the audiobook, where the repetition wasn’t as noticeable and the rhythms of the conversations tended toward the lyrical. The realism of the book is overshadowed by the drippy dialog between Frederic and nurse Catherine (we wondered if the author was capable of writing a female character) and the lack of urgency in the interpersonal relationship. However, the scenes of the retreat and river escape aligned with our pre-conceptions of Hemingway’s style and conveyed his message about war. Some readers compared these scenes to The Revenant book and movie and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

There is room for ambiguity in the realistic description of war. No one seems to care about the cause of the conflict and the Italians differ in opinion on tactics and leadership. The unceasing rain, while historically accurate, also emphasizes the long slog characteristic of this war and the ultimate interiority of the main characters, cloistered in hotels and hospitals. Catherine claims that the war will never end and their unborn child will become a general. Frederic and an Italian priest contemplate the end, saying “It is in defeat that we become Christian. . . I don’t mean technically Christian. I mean like our Lord. . . We are all gentler now because we are beaten.” Through unimaginable bloodshed, we earn acceptance and humility.

Mysteries abound in this novel. Why was Frederic in Italy before the war? Was he really studying architecture? Where did they find the money to stay in Switzerland for months? Why were they estranged from both families? Perhaps the biggest mystery is Catherine. Does she truly love Frederic or is this a relationship of convenience, swept up in the war. How could a women who worked a dangerous, arduous job, an atheist who lived independently from her family be as clingy and afraid of upsetting her partner as Catherine was? Her obsession with thinness made us wonder if Hemingway or Frederic were the misogynist.

The ending was so abrupt that some audiobook listeners weren’t sure that the novel had ended. However, another reader pointed out that the ending is fitting – this self-absorbed couple doesn’t have a future and may not have been in love. One astute reader shared her favorite alternate ending, available in some paperback editions: “When I woke the sun was coming in the open window and I smelled the spring morning after the rain and there was a moment, probably it was only a second, before I began to realize what it was that had happened. And then I knew that it was all gone now and that it would not be that way any more.”

More Information:
About the author
About the book
Battle of Caporetto map and more on the Italian Front.
Other works
WWI reading list
Confidential to Will: Is this it?

Books on Tap Information:

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