Let’s say that you are headed to Ottawa. After you cross the border into Canada, part of your route will take you along the Veterans Memorial Highway. Signs on either side of the road reiterate in English the words written in Morse code along the façade of the Canadian War Museum: “Lest we forget.”
On November 11th, 1918, an Armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany in Compiègne, France. Later that morning, on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” both sides laid down their weapons, ending World War I.
In the United States, we call November 11th “Veterans Day.” In Canada, they celebrate “Remembrance Day.” Between the two, we are honoring our veterans, and that’s all that counts.
My mother was born in Canada. During World War II, six of her siblings served in the Canadian Armed Forces. My Uncle Harry’s ship, the Athabaska, was torpedoed by the Germans, and he became a prisoner of war. My Uncle Moe was the most highly decorated non-commissioned member of the Royal Canadian Grenadier Guards.
Sgt. Samuel Moses (“Moe”) Hurwitz’s actions were the stuff of which legends are made. He was awarded the Military Medal for “extraordinary heroism and leadership” during the epic Battle for the Falaise Road. On September 20, 1944, he earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the commendation for which reads like a movie script: “Armed with only a pistol and accompanied by two Guardsmen, Hurwitz personally attacked two German machine guns and captured 25 enemy soldiers.” Later that day, he “helped knock out another 88 mm anti-tank gun. In all, the little force took 150 prisoners.”
Moe died as heroically as he had lived surrounded by enemy infantry and anti-tank weapons, severely wounded … in enemy hands.
But that was then. This is now, and we are still at war. Greatly accelerated since the October 7th Hamas massacre, kidnappings, and bombings in Israel – our ally. Which brings me back to veterans. Or rather, those now serving in our United States Military.
According to Statista, a data gathering service, as of June, 2022, there were 1,176,795 active men and women serving in the U.S. and its territories; 67,395 in Europe; 84,093 in East Asia and the Pacific, and so on throughout the world. To say nothing of the massive build-up of our armed forces in the Mediterranean since Hamas and surrounding Arab countries began their attacks.
When a man or woman joins the United States military, they must first solemnly swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic (and) bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” At this very moment, those who have taken that oath are risking their lives to protect our nation, our values, our brilliant achievements, our stupid mistakes, our foibles, our follies, our freedoms, and our lives. They are the veterans that, at some undetermined time in the future, we will honor and recollect.
But sometime is a scary too far away, so it would wise to honor them now. Praise them now. Worry about them now. And thank them now.
My friend Byron, a Vietnam veteran, first introduced me to this quote. Although it is often attributed to Winston Churchill, George Orwell, or Rudyard Kipling, nobody really knows who said it first:
“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
Speaking of those “rough men” (and women), every Memorial Day, the Veterans of the Foreign Wars distributes millions of paper poppies in honor of our disabled vets. This tradition (I bet you didn’t know) did not originate in the USA, but above the 49th Parallel. It was inspired by Lt Col. John McCrae, a Canadian artillery commander during World War I., who, grief stricken after witnessing the death of a friend, wrote “In Flanders Field.” The last lines of the poem read:
“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
On November 11, Veterans Day, we not only remember who “they” were, we also remember what they did, the price that they paid, and how much we owe them.
“Lest we forget.”
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2023. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com