Our honoring of Veterans on November 11th stems from the Armistice or peace agreement set forth on the 11thhour of the 11thday of the 11thmonth of 1918, which brought an end to WWI. Known as “the war to end all wars” both sides agreed to end the bloody conflict, which had taken more than 8.5 million lives over four years.
When the generals agreed to end the fighting, the Allies chose the 11th hour. Six hours remained before that time. In the final moments, a young man, honored by the United States as the last soldier to die in that war, charged the German line. Both sides called for him to stop before machine guns ended his life.
Henry Gunther had been drafted. On the front lines he had written a letter urging a friend not to enlist. The letter was intercepted and for his clarity he was demoted. His fiancé ended their engagement and he was left to prove himself a worthy soldier.
The peace of the armistice did not find him.
When I was young I dreamed that one-day soldiers would refuse to fight. I was told it was naïve. I am older now and I have learned a bit about peace. And this is what I know: peace is a personal choice we each must make again and again. It is not an end of conflict. It is a feeling and an understanding and it is possible.
Peace is a choice. And I am still dreaming that all people will make that choice.
As for Henry Gunther he was posthumously reinstated to his role as sergeant. And even though honored as the last to die in the war, he was not.
But he reminds us of this: Discover your own armistice and don’t give your life away.