Veterans Day: Remembering Syracuse’s Brave

Veterans Day - Bernard StapletonVeterans Day, also know as Armistice Day, is a time to remember those who have fought for our country. Veterans bear the weight of war, long after they leave the battlefield. Win, lose, or draw, those who risk their lives to defend freedom deserve to be remembered and cherished, not only today, but all days.

Today, OHA remembers Onondaga County veterans like Lieutenant Bernard Stapleton, a young man from Syracuse who fought in the Pacific theater during World War II. Here (left), Stapleton puts up an American flag on the tallest building in Tokyo, Japan a day after Japan’s official surrender on September 3rd 1945, supposedly beating General Douglas MacArthur to the punch. This photo, and other memorabilia relating to veterans from Onondaga County, can be found in OHA’s exhibit at the War Memorial in Syracuse.

What’s the the history of Veterans Day? Known at the time as “The Great War,” World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919, outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11th, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” Celebrations occur all around Europe each year on this day, specifically in France, where a majority of the fighting took place and over 600,000 soldiers from different nationalities lost their lives in the trenches.

Interestingly enough, however, the United States didn’t “officially” recognize the end of World War I until 1921 when Congress passed the Knox–Porter Resolution, signed into law by President Harding on  July 2nd, bringing a formal end to hostilities. The U.S. Congress did not agree to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, meaning Congress and the President needed to end the war individually with the Central Powers.

In the United States in November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first commemoration of Armistice Day: ‘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.” In 1938, Armistice Day became an official holiday in the United States, though its name would change to Veterans Day in 1954 after the largest mobilization of American troops occurred during World War II.